Outline Of Deuteronomy

I. First Discourse of Moses (1:1—4:49). (Approaching the land)

        A. Introduction (1:1-5).

        B. Horeb to Kadesh (1:6-46).

        C. Kadesh to Heshbon (2:1-37).

        D. Transjordan secured (3:1-29).

        E. Exhortation to obedience (4:1-49).

II. Second Discourse of Moses (5:1—28:68).

(Purity in the land)

        A. Review of covenant made at Sinai (5:1-33).

        B. Warnings against disobedience (6:1-25).

        C. Instructions on dealing with idolatrous nations (7:1-26).

        D. Lessons from the past (8:1—11:7).

        E. Rewards for obedience (11:8-32).

        F. Statutes for worship (12:1-32).

        G. Punishment for false prophets and idolators (13:1-18).

        H. Foods clean and unclean (14:1-21).

        I. Tithes (14:22-29).

        J. Treatment of debtors and slaves (15:1-23).

        K. Feasts (16:1-22).

        L. Judges (17:1-13).

        M. Kings (17:14-20).

        N. Levites (18:1-8).

        O. Prophets (18:9-22).

        P. Criminal laws (19:1-21).

        Q. Warfare (20:1-20).

        R. Various laws (21:1—26:19).

        S. Curses and blessings (27:1—28:68).

III. Third Discourse of Moses (29:1—30:20).

(Covenant for the land)

        A. Covenant made in Moab (20:1-21).

        B. Punishment for breaking the covenant (29:22-29).

        C. Restoration for returning to the covenant (30:1-20).

IV. The Final Days of Moses (31:1—34:12).

(Death outside the land)

        A. Moses’ replacement (31:1-30).

        B. Moses’ song (32:1-52)

        C. Moses’ blessing (33:1-29).

        D. Moses’ death (34:1-12).

The name “Deuteronomy” means “second law.” The book is a restatement of the Law for the new generation that had arisen during the wilderness journey. They were about to enter the Promised Land. In order to enjoy God’s blessing there, they must know the Law and be obedient to it.

The book consists first of a spiritual interpretation of Israel’s history from Sinai onward (chs. 1—3). The thought, of course, is that those who refuse to learn from history are doomed to relive it. The main section is a review of important features of God’s legislation for His people (chs. 4—26). Then follows a preview of God’s purposes of grace and government from Israel’s entrance into the land until the second advent of the Messiah (chs. 27—33). The book closes with the death of Moses and the appointment of Joshua as his successor (ch. 34).

The Lord Jesus quoted from Deuteronomy three times when He was tested by Satan (Matt. 4:4.7, 10).

The Apostle Paul reminds us that the book has a message for us as well as for Israel. In commenting on Deuteronomy 25:4, he says that it was written “altogether for your sakes” (1 Cor. 9:10).

Like the other books of the Pentateuch, Deuteronomy was written by Moses. The last chapter, which records his death, could have been written by him prophetically, or may have been added by Joshua or someone else.

Chapter 1

Now we come to one of the key books in the Old Testament. Deuteronomy is quoted over 80 times in the New Testament, in all but six books. Although some of the material is repetitive, we learn many new insights not previously given in the Pentateuch. The book is rich in exhortation, which can be summed up in the verbs of Deuteronomy 5:1: “Hear…learn…keep and do.”

As the book of Deuteronomy opens, the children of Israel are camped on the Plains of Moab, which they had reached in Numbers 22:1. In Deuteronomy 1:1 their location is said to be “over against the red Sea.” This means that the wilderness, of which the Plains of Moab were an extension, stretched southward to that portion of the Red Sea known as the Gulf of Aqaba. Verse 2 explains that the journey from Mount Sinai (Horeb) to Kadesh-barnea, on the threshold of Canaan, required only 11 days. But now 38 years had passed before the Israelites were ready to enter the Promised Land. Verses 3-5 define the time when Moses delivered his subsequent discourse to the children of Israel, preparatory to their entering Canaan. It was 40 years since they left Egypt, and it was after Sihon and Og had been slain (Num. 21).

From Numbers 1:6 to 3:28 we have a review of the period from Mount Sinai to the Plains of Moab. Since most of this has already been covered in Numbers, we shall simply summarize it here: God’s command to march to the Promised Land and possess it (vv. 6-8; the appointment of judges over civil matters (vv. 9-18); the journey from Sinai to Kadesh-barnea (vv. 19-21); the sending of the spies and the subsequent rebellion (vv. 22-46). With the exception of Joshua and Caleb, no soldier who had left Egypt was allowed to enter the land (vv. 14-16). (The men of Levi did not serve as soldiers and were therefore exempt from this judgment.)

Chapter 2

The journey from Kadesh-barnea to the borders of Edom (vv. 1-7), avoiding conflict with the Edomites; the journey from the borders of Edom to the brook Zered (vv. 8-15), avoiding conflict with the Moabites; the command to avoid conflict with the Ammonites (vv. 16-23); the defeat of Sihon, king of Heshbon (vv. 24-37). Verse 29a implies that the children of Esau, the Edomites, sold food and water to the Israelites as the latter skirted the country of Edom. But the record in Numbers 20:14-22 suggests that Edom was completely uncooperative. The King of Edom was staunch in his refusal to assist Israel, but it seems that some of his people sold food supplies to the Jews.

Chapter 3

The defeat of Og, king of Bashan (vv. 1-11): distribution of the land east of the Jordan to Reuben. Gad, and the half-tribe of Manasseh (vv. 12-17); Moses’ command to the 2 ½ tribes to assist the other tribes in the conquest of the land west of the Jordan River (vv. 18-20); Moses’ exhortation to Joshua to remember past victories and trust God for future ones (vv. 21, 22); God’s refusal of Moses’ petition to enter the land (vv. 23-29). “Giants” (v. 11) is rendered “Rephaim” in other versions. The Rephaim were an ancient race of giants from whom Og was descended. The word Rephaim came to mean any people of large stature.

Chapter 4

This chapter serves as an introduction to Moses’ rehearsal of the Law. Here he dealt particularly with the worship of the one true God and with the penalties that would follow any turning to idolatry.

The children of Israel were charged to obey the Law when they entered Canaan (v. 1). They were not to add to it or take from it (v. 2). God’s punishment of the idolatry practiced at Beth-peor should serve as a constant warning (vv. 3, 4). (Perhaps this particular incident of divine wrath against idolatry is mentioned here because it had taken place just a short time earlier and would be fresh in their minds.) Obedience to the Law would cause Israel to be admired as a great nation by the Gentiles (vv. 5-8). Israel should remember from past experiences the blessings of following the Lord (v. 8). They were especially instructed to remember the giving of the Law at Mount Sinai (Horeb) (vv. 9-11). At that time, they did not see the form of God: that is, although they might have seen a manifestation of God, they did not see a physical likeness which could be reproduced by an image or an idol. They were forbidden to make images of any kind to represent God, or to worship the sun, moon, or stars (vv. 14-19). The Israelites were reminded of their deliverance from Egypt, of Moses’ disobedience and consequent judgment, and of God’s wrath against idolatry (vv. 20-24).

“Only give heed to yourself … lest you forget” (v. 9 NASB); “so watch yourselves carefully, . . lest you act corruptly” (vv. 15, 16 NASB): “so watch yourselves, lest you forget” (v. 23 NASB). Moses knew only too well the natural tendency of the human heart, and so he earnestly charged the people to pay attention.

If the nation in later years should turn to idols, it would be sent away into captivity (vv. 25-28). But even then, if the people repented and turned to the Lord, He would restore them (vv. 29-31). No nation had ever had the privileges of Israel, particularly the miracles connected with the deliverance from Egypt (vv. 32-38). Therefore they should be obedient to Him and thus enjoy His continued blessing {vv. 39, 40). It is a sad fact of Jewish history that the nation was subjected to a purging captivity because of their disobedience and failure to take the warning of Jehovah seriously. God’s warnings are not idle words: no man and no nation can set them aside with impunity.

Moses set apart three cities of refuge on the east side of the Jordan—Bezer, Ramoth-Gilead, and Golan (vv. 41-43).

Verse 44 begins Moses’ second discourse, delivered on the Plains of Moab, east of the Jordan (vv. 44-49). Verse 48 is the only instance where Mount Hermon is called Mount Sion.

Chapter 5

This chapter reviews the giving of the ‘I en Commandments at Mount Sinai. In verse 3 supply the word “only” after “fathers.” The covenant was made with the fathers, but it was intended for future generations of Israelites as well.

The Ten Commandments

1. No other gods were to be worshiped (v. 7).

2. No images were to be made or worshiped (vv. 8-10). This commandment does not repeat the first. People might worship mythical beings, or the sun and moon, without the use of idols.

3. The name of the Lord was not to be taken in vain (v. 11).

4. The sabbath was to be kept holy (vv. 12-15). A different reason for keeping the sabbath is given here from the one given in Exodus 20:8-11 (God’s rest in creation). These two reasons are complementary, not contradictory.

5. Parents were to be honored (v. 16).

6. Murder was prohibited (v. 17).

7. Adultery was prohibited (v. 18).

8. Stealing was prohibited (v. 19).

9. Bearing false witness against a neighbor was prohibited (v. 20).

10. Coveting was prohibited (v. 21).

“The expression and He added no more (v. 22) is unusual and may indicate that these commandments were such a complete summary of the fundamental requirements of the covenant that no other law needed to be added. All other law was a mere interpretation and expansion of these basic principles.”65

When the Law was given, the people were terrified by the manifestations of the divine Presence and feared for their lives. They sent Moses to speak to the Lord and to assure Him that they would do whatever He said. (They did not realize their own sinfulness and powerlessness when they made such a rash vow.) Consequently the rest of the laws and ordinances were given through Moses the mediator. The Ten Words or Ten Commandments appear to have been spoken verbally 10 the whole nation when they were at Mount Sinai (vv. 30, 31).

In verse 28, the Lord is not commending them for their promise to keep the Law, but rather for their expressions of fear and awe (compare 18:10-18). God knew that they did not have a heart to keep His commandments. He wished that they did, so that He could bless them abundantly (vv. 28-33).

Chapter 6

When the people would enter into the Promised Land, God wanted them to be in a right moral condition. In order to enjoy the land as He intended, they must be an obedient people. Therefore, Moses gave them practical instruction to fit them for life in Canaan (vv. 1, 2). The Israelites were to bear testimony to the truth that God is the only true God (vv. 3, 4). They were to love Him supremely and keep His Word (vv. 5, 6). The commandments of the Lord were to be taught to their children and to guide them in every department of their lives. Verses 4-9 were known as the Shema and were recited daily by devout Jews along with 11:13-21 and Numbers 15:37-41.

“The Hebrew word for “one’ in verse 4 is significant, viewed in the light of the fuller revelation of the New Testament. It stands, not for absolute unity, but for compound unity, and is thus consistent with both the names of God used in this verse. Jehovah (Lord) emphasizes His oneness. Elohim (God) emphasizes His three persons. The same mysterious hints of trinity in unity occur in the very first verse of the Bible, where ‘Elohim’ is followed by a singular verb (created) and in Genesis 1:26, where the plural pronouns us and ours are followed by the singular nouns image and likeness.66

In the days of Christ, the Jews actually bound portions of the Law to their hands and suspended them between their eyes (v. 8). But doubtless the Lord intended rather that their actions (hands) and desires (eyes) should he controlled by the Law. When the people would enter the land and enjoy its great prosperity, there was a danger that they would forget the One who gave the Law to them (vv. 10-13) or go after other gods (vv. 14, 15). Obedience to the Law was not so much a means of gaining favor with Jehovah as it was of showing love to Him. Biblical love is not a warm sentimentality but a calculated pattern of conformity to the revealed will of God. Love is not an option (v. 15) but a necessity for well-being. God’s jealousy (zeal for His own glory) would destroy the people if they broke His covenant through disobedience.

The Lord Jesus quoted Deuteronomy 6:16 in Matthew 4:7 and Luke 4:12. At Massah, there was not enough water to drink, and the people questioned that Jehovah was with them (Exod. 17). To doubt God’s care and goodness is to tempt Him.

Obedience would bring victory over Israel’s foes (vv. 17-19). Future generations were to be instructed in God’s deliverance of the people from Egypt and of His giving of the Law for their good and blessing (vv. 20-25). Compare verse 23 with Romans 3:21, 22. The Law says, “if we are careful to observe”; grace says, “for all those who believe.” Today believers are clothed with the righteousness on which the Law was based, the righteousness of God (2 Cor. 5:21), and this according to faith, not works (Rom. 4:5).

Chapter 7

The people of Israel were strongly warned against mixing with the heathen, idolatrous nations which were then inhabiting Canaan. To punish these seven nations for their unspeakable sin and to preserve Israel from contamination, God decreed that these Gentiles should be utterly exterminated and that every trace of idolatry should be destroyed (vv. 1-5). Perhaps verse 3 anticipates the failure of the Jews to obey verse 2, for if they destroyed all the inhabitants of the land, obviously there would be no threat of intermarriage.

God had chosen Israel to be a people who were separated unto Himself. He did not want them to be like the other nations. He did not choose them because of their superior numbers (they were the fewest of all peoples). He chose them simply because He loved them, and He wanted them to obey Him in all things (vv. 8-11). The Lord hated the Canaanite nations because of their evil deeds. He loved the nation of Israel not because of any good but simply because He loved them and would keep the oath which He initiated with their forefathers. Who can understand the electing grace of a sovereign God!

If God’s people would be faithful to Him in the land, He would bless them with numerous children, abundant crops, large herds, health, and victory over their enemies (vv. 12-16). If they were ever tempted to fear their enemies, they should remember God’s mighty deliverances in the past, especially the deliverance from Egypt (vv. 17-19). As He had done in the past, He would do for them again (vv. 20-24), although He would not destroy their enemies all at once lest the land be overrun with wild beasts (v. 22). (Unpopulated areas become breeding grounds for wild animals, whereas urban areas serve to control their numbers.) Another reason victory was not to be immediate can be found in Judges 2:21-23: God would use the remaining heathen to test Israel. All idols were to be utterly destroyed lest they become a temptation to Israel (vv. 25, 26). The most serious threat to Israel was not, the people of Canaan but their idols and the gross immorality associated with these idols. The battles for which they needed most to prepare were spiritual, not physical.

Chapter 8

Concerning chapters 8 and 9, J. A. Thompson succinctly points out: “Two important lessons from the past are now referred to. First, the experience of God’s care in the wilderness period, when the people of Israel were unable to help themselves, taught them the lesson of humility through the Lord’s providential discipline. The memory of that experience should keep them from pride in their own achievements amid the security and prosperity of the new land (8:1-20). Secondly, any success they might enjoy in the coming conquest was not to be interpreted as a mark of divine approval for their own righteousness (9:1-6). In fact, both in the incident of the golden calf (9:7-21) and a number of other incidents (9:22-29), Israel had proved herself stubborn and rebellious.”67

Again Moses urged the people to obey God, using the loving, preserving care of God as a motive (vv. 1-5). The Lord had allowed trials to come into their lives to humble them, prove them, and test their obedience. But He also fed them with bread from heaven, and provided clothes that did not wear out and shoes which kept their feet from swelling during the 40 years of wilderness wanderings.

God knew what was in the hearts of the people. He was not trying to learn something by proving Israel in the wilderness (v. 2), but He was manifesting to the people themselves their own rebellious nature that they might more fully appreciate His mercy and grace. Another lesson they were to learn through their wanderings was to fear the Lord.

Moses pled his case not only on the basis of what God had done but on what He was about to do (vv. 6, 7). The blessings of Canaan are described in detail (vv. 7-9). Prosperity might lead to forgetfulness and forgetfulness to disobedience, so the people were to watch against these perils (vv. 10-20). Faithfulness on God’s part was to be met by a corresponding faithfulness on the part of Israel. God was keeping His word to the patriarchs (v. 18); the people needed to keep their word to God (Exod. 19:8) in return. If the people forgot God’s mighty acts in their behalf and attributed their wealth to their own power, Jehovah would destroy them as He destroyed the Gentile nations in Canaan.

Chapter 9

This chapter opens with a description of the nations which Israel was soon to face in battle (vv. 1, 2). Israel was not to be afraid, as they had been 40 years earlier, because God would fight for them. “He will destroy them … so that you may drive them out and destroy them” (v. 3 NASB). Notice the complementary working of divine sovereignty and human agency; both were essential for securing the Promised Land.

After God had defeated the Canaanite inhabitants of the land, the Israelites were not to boast. Three times the people are warned about attributing success to their own righteousness (vv. 4-8). God would give them the land because of the wickedness of the present inhabitants (v. 4) and because of His oath to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (v. 5). The truth of the matter is that they were stiff necked (stubborn) (v. 6) as well as provocative and rebellions (v. 7).

Moses cites as an example the people’s behavior at Mount Horeb (Sinai) (vv. 8-29). Verses 22 and 23 mention other places where the people sinned; Taberah (Num. 11:3); Massah (Exod. 17:7); Kibroth-hattaavah (Num. 11:34); Kadesh-barnea (Num. 13:31-33).

At Mount Sinai the intercession of Moses was the only thing that saved the people from the wrath of Jehovah (vv. 25-29). He did not base his plea upon the righteousness of the people (which further shows that they had none) but on possession: “Thy people and Thine inheritance” (v. 26); promise: “Remember Thy servants, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob” (v. 27); power (God’s power would be ridiculed by the Egyptians): “Lest the land whence Thou broughtest us out say, ‘Because the Lord was not able’” (v. 28).

Chapter 10

In verse 1, the narrative goes back to the events at Mount Sinai and therefore follows verse 29 of the previous chapter. The Bible is not always chronological; often the order of events has a spiritual or moral order that is more important than the mere chronological order. A more appropriate place for the chapter division would scent to be after verse 11, because the first 11 verses deal with events at Mount Sinai (the theme taken up in 10:8) while verses 12 and following are an exhortation to obedience based on God’s gracious mercy.

Verses 1-5 record the second giving of the Law and the deposit of the two tables in the ark. Verse 3 doesn’t mean that Moses personally made the ark, but only that he caused it to be made. A person is often said to do what he orders to be done.

Verses 8 and 7 seem to be an abrupt change at this point. Actually they are a parenthesis, recording events that took place at a later date. But they bring the reader up to the death of Aaron. (The NASB puts vv. 6-9 in parentheses, which makes the passage easier to understand.)

Mosera (v. 6) was probably near Mount Hor, since that is where Aaron died (Num. 20:25-28). The exact location of Mosera is unknown today. Perhaps this mention of the death of Aaron caused Moses to think of the priesthood, and so he reverted to the choosing of Levi as the priestly tribe (vv. 8, 9). The threefold function of the priesthood is given in verse 8: 1) to bear the ark of the covenant; 2) to stand before Jehovah to serve Him; 3) to bless His name. Instructions about the priesthood were important for this generation which was about to enter Canaan. Jehovah’s desire for His people was summed up in the words “to fear . . . to walk … to love … to serve … to keep” (vv. 12, 13). All of God’s commandments were designed for their good (v. 13b). Moses encouraged them to obey God because of His greatness (v. 14), His sovereign choice of Israel as His special people (v. 15), His righteousness and justice (vv. 17-20), and His past favors to the nation (vv. 21, 22).

Chapter 11

Once more Moses reviewed the past history of Israel in order to draw spiritual lessons from it (vv. 1-9). In verse 2, Moses is speaking to males who were under 20 when they left Egypt, to all females, and to all the tribe of Levi. Soldiers who were over 20 when they left. Egypt were excluded from entering Canaan (2:14; Josh. 5:6). God delivered His people from Egypt and led them through the wilderness, but He would not tolerate the rebellion of Dathan and Abiram. God’s judgment of the idolatrous Egyptians and His vigorous judgment on rebels within the nation itself should serve as lessons on the folly of incurring His displeasure. Conversely, the way to “prolong your days in the land” (v. 9) was to “keep all the commandments” (v. 8).

The land which they would enjoy, if obedient, is described in verses 10-12. The expression “wateredst it with thy foot” may refer to the use of some pedal device to pump water or to the opening of sluices with the loot. Egypt was a barren land made fruitful by irrigation, but the Promised Land enjoyed the special favor of the God of nature (vv. 11, 12). Abundant rain and plentiful harvests would be the reward of obedience (vv. 13-15), but forgetfulness of God or idolatry would be followed by drought and barrenness.

The Word of God was to be the subject of household conversation (vv. 18-21). It was to be loved and lived. “Latter-day Jews took 18b literally, and so wore small pouches with portions of Scripture on their foreheads, and put them on their doorposts (as some still do). But verse 19a suggests the truth intended—the Word on the hand means a pair of hands that will not lend themselves to shoddy or unworthy workmanship: the Word between our eyes represents the control of God over our vision—where we look, and what we covet; the Word on the doorpost signifies home and family life under the constraint of responsibility to God, especially for any young lives entrusted to our care (19).”68

Those who walked in the ways of the Lord would drive out the heathen Canaanites and possess all the land their feet walked on (vv. 22-25). The rule of possession is given in verse 24. All the land was theirs by promise, but they had to go in and make it their own, just as we have to appropriate the promises of God. The boundaries given in verse 24 have never been realized historically by Israel. It is true that Solomon’s kingdom extended from the river (Euphrates) to the border of Egypt (I Kgs. 4:21), but the Israelites did not actually possess all this territory. Rather, it included states that paid tribute to Solomon but maintained their own internal government. Verse 24, along with many others, will find its fulfillment in the millennial reign of the Lord Jesus Christ.

So it was to be a blessing or a curse for Israel—a blessing in the event of obedience, and a curse for disobedience (vv. 26-32). Two mountains in Canaan represented this truth—Gerizim stood for the blessing, and Ebal for the curse. These two mountains, located near Shechem, had a small valley between them. Half of the tribes were supposed to stand on Gerizim while the priests would pronounce the blessings that would follow obedience. The other six tribes were to stand on Mount Ebal while the priests recited the curses that would flow from disobedience. In each case, the people were to say Amen. See Deuteronomy 27:11-26 for details concerning the significance of these two mountains.

The oaks of Moreh are probably those mentioned in Genesis 35:1-4. There, several centuries earlier, Jacob had purged his house of idolatry. Perhaps this reference was intended to impart not only geographical guidance but spiritual guidance as well.

Chapter 12

When they entered the land, the people of God were to destroy all idols and idol shrines, all places where a false worship had been carried on (vv. 1-3). “Grove” (v. 3) should be translated “Asherim,” wooden symbols of a female deity. The pillars were symbolic of Baal, the male deity.

God would set apart a place of worship, a place where sacrifices and offerings should be brought (vv. 4-14). This place was where the tabernacle was pitched at first (Shiloh—Josh. 18:1) and later where the temple was erected (Jerusalem). Only in this appointed place was worship approved. The Christian’s center of worship is a Person, the Lord Jesus Christ, the visible manifestation of the invisible Godhead…God had overlooked certain irregularities in the wilderness that must not be practiced in the land of Canaan (vv. 8, 9).

In Leviticus 17:3, 4, God had commanded that when any sacrificial animal such as an ox, sheep, or goat was slain, it had to be brought to the tabernacle. Now that the people were about to settle in Canaan, the law must be changed. Henceforth the Jews could kill and eat domestic animals commonly used for sacrifices, just as they would eat the roebuck and the hart (clean animals that were not used for sacrifices). This permission was granted to those who were ceremonially unclean as well as to those who were clean. However, they were repeatedly warned not to eat the blood, because the blood is the life of the flesh, and the life belongs to God (vv. 15-28).

The Israelites were solemnly warned not even to investi- gate the idolatrous practices of the heathen, lest they be tempted to introduce these wicked practices into the worship of the true God (vv. 29-32). Verse 31 refers to the horrible practices associated with the worship of Molech and Chemosh. In the New Testament, Paul tells us that the motivating force behind idolatry is demonic (I Cor. 10:20). Should we marvel at the cruelty and degradation of idolatry when we realize its true nature? That the human heart gravitates toward this kind of darkness more readily than it seeks the light of the true God is illustrated by the nation to whom Deuteronomy is addressed. Solomon, Israel’s third king, actually did build an altar for Chemosh and Molech right in Jerusalem, the city where the Lord had put His Name (v. 5).

Chapter 13

Individuals or groups which might tempt God’s people to practice idolatry were to be stoned to death, whether a prophet (vv. 1-5), a near relative (vv. 6-11), or a community (vv. 12-18). A prophet who encouraged people into idolatry was not to be followed, even if some miracle he predicted came to pass. Such a person was a false prophet, and he must he put to death. Even if a close relative enticed his family to practice idolatry, he too was to be slain.

“Certain men, the children of Belial” (v. 13), means certain base fellows, or sons of worthlessness. Any such gang which led the people of their city away from God to idols should be killed, together with the inhabitants of the city and the city should be burned.

The same treatment was to be meted out to an idolatrous Israelite city as to the Canaanite cities—namely, total destruction. God is not partial; He will deal severely with sin, every among His chosen people. But His motives are different. In the case involving a Jewish city His motive would be fatherly discipline, with a view to correction of the nation as a whole.

Chapter 14

The first two verses prohibit the idolatrous practice of disfiguring the body in mourning for the dead. The Jews had a higher regard for the body as God’s creation than did the Gentiles.

Verses 3-21 review the subject of clean and unclean foods, whether animals (vv. 4-8), fishes (vv. 9, 10), insects (v. 19), or birds (vv. 11-18, 20). (For exceptions to verse 19, see Leviticus 11:21, 22.) A similar list is given in Leviticus 11. The two lists are not identical in every detail, nor are they intended to be. Some foods were unclean for hygienic reasons, and some because they were used in idolatrous rites or venerated by the heathen. The New Testament principle concerning foods can be found in Mark 7. In. Romans 14:14, and 1 Timothy 4:3b-5. Gentiles were permitted to eat the flesh of an animal that died by itself, whereas Jews were not (v. 21a). To do so would violate Deuteronomy 12:23 because the blood had not been properly removed from the animal.

A kid was not to be cooked in the same pan with milk from its mother (v. 21b). (This appears to have been a Canaanite practice. It is forbidden three times in the Pentateuch.) From a natural standpoint, this rule would save the people from the poisoning that is so common when creamed meat dishes spoil. Spiritually, perhaps this law speaks of the necessity for God’s people to have tender considerations and sympathies.

Verses 22-29 deal with the subject of tithes. Some commentators feel that this section does not refer to the first tithe (Lev. 27:30-33), which belonged to God alone, was given to the Levites, and was not to be eaten by the Israelites; but to a secondary tithe, called the festival tithe, part of which the offerer himself ate. Generally speaking, these secondary tithes were to be brought to the place which God appointed as the center for worship (vv. 22, 23). However, if the offerer lived so far from the place where God placed His name that he was not able to carry his tithe there, he could sell the produce, carry the money to God’s sanctuary, and buy food and drink there to be enjoyed before the Lord. For two years he was required to go up with either the tithe or its monetary equivalent. In the third year (v. 28), he used the tithe at home to feed the Levites, the strangers, the orphans, and the widows. Notice in verse 20 that the Bible does not teach total abstinence. But it does teach moderation, self-control, nonaddiction, and abstinence from anything that would cause offense to another. The difference between wine and strong drink is that wine is made from grapes, and strong drink is made from grain, fruit, or honey. Once again (v. 29) we see that the poor and needy are a high priority as far as the Lord is concerned. “He who is gracious to a poor man lends to the Lord, and He will repay him for his good deed” (Prov. 19:17 NASB).

Chapter 15

At the end of every seven years, all debts among the children of Israel were to be canceled. The seventh year probably coincided with the sabbatic year. The Jews were not required to cancel debts owed to them by foreigners; this law applied only to debts incurred between Jews. “Every seventh year was a year of release, in which the ground rested from being tilled and servants were discharged from their services; and, among other acts of grace, this was one that those who had borrowed money and had not been able to pay it before should this year be released from it.”69 Seven is the number of fullness or completeness in Scripture. In the fullness of time, God sent forth His Son and through Him proclaimed remission of sins—a “year of release” not only for the Jews (v. 3) but for all men.

Verse 4 seems to conflict with verse 11. Verse 4 suggests a time when there would be no poor people in the land, whereas verse 11 says that there will always be poor people. Bullinger’s note is helpful on this. He suggests that verse 4 means “that there be no poor among you.”70 In other words, they should release their brethren in debt every seven years so that there would be no people in continual poverty. The creditor would not suffer because God would richly reward him. The thought in verse 11 is that there will always be poor people, partly as punishment and partly to teach others compassion in sharing.

The fact that all debts were canceled the seventh year should not cause a person to refuse to lend money to a poor Israelite as the year of release drew near (vv. 7-11). To refuse is “the base thought” of verse 9 (NASB). In this connection, the Jewish people have been well known for caring for their own. Paul says the same thing in 2 Corinthians 9:7 that Moses says in verse 10: “God loveth a cheerful giver.” This verse is not only a command but a promise, for God is no man’s debtor. “The generous man will be prosperous, and he who waters will himself be watered” (Prov. 11:25 NASB).

A Hebrew slave was also to be released during the seventh year (vv. 12-18). But he was not to be sent away without first providing for him liberally. God provided abundantly for His people when He brought them out of slavery in Egypt (Exod. 12:35, 36), and for this reason a freed slave should not go out empty-handed. The Lord’s desire is for His people to follow His example or, to rephrase the golden rule, “Do unto your brother as the Lord has done unto you.” On the other hand, the slave could refuse freedom and choose to become “a perpetual love servant.” He indicated this by having his ear pierced with an awl to the door of his master’s house (vv. 16, 17), A bondservant was worth twice as much as a hired servant (v. 18).

Beginning with verse 19 and continuing through 16:17, we have regulations about certain functions which were to be carried out in the place where Jehovah had placed His name:

1. The setting apart of the firstborn animals (15:19-23).

2. The Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread (16:1-8).

3. The Feast of Weeks, or Pentecost (16:9-12).

4. The Feast of Tabernacles (16:13-17).

The firstborn of clean animals were to be offered to the Lord, and the people were allowed to eat their portion. The animals had to be without spot or blemish—nothing but the best for God (vv. 19-23).

Chapter 16

This chapter reviews the three feasts for which the men in Israel were to go to the central sanctuary each year. The Passover and Feast of Unleavened Bread were closely connected. The Passover is described in verses 1, 2, 5-7: the Feast of Unleavened Bread in verses 3, 4, 8. These feasts were to remind God’s people of His redemptive work on their behalf. The Lord’s Supper is a weekly remembrance feast for the New Testament believer, a memorial of Christ our Passover sacrificed for us. The Feast of Unleavened Bread pictures the kind of lives the redeemed should live—full of praise “according to the blessing of the Lord your God” and free from malice and wickedness (1 Cor. 5:8). The details given concerning the Passover here are different in several respects from the details given in Exodus 12 and 13. For example, what could be offered and where it could be offered are different in each passage. The move from a nomadic life-style to a settled way of life in the land is probably the reason for the changes.

The Feast of Weeks (Pentecost) began with the firstfruits of the wheat harvest (vv. 9-12), and is a symbol of the gift of the Holy Spirit. It is not to be confused with the Feast of Firstfruits (barley), which was held on the second day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread.

The Feast of Tabernacles was at the end of the harvest season (vv. 13-15) and looks forward to the time when Israel will be regathered in the land under the rule of Christ.

Verses 18-20 require that judges must be honest, righteous, and impartial. They should not accept a bribe (gift) because a bribe makes a man incapable of judging fairly.

“Grove” in verse 21 should be translated “Asherah,” as in the NASB. The plural of Asherah is Asherim (12:3 NASB). Eventually the altar of the Lord would rest in the temple in Jerusalem, where no trees could easily be planted but where an idolatrous symbol could be, and ultimately was, set up (2 Kgs. 25:6).

Chapter 17

Sacrificial animals were to be without blemish (v. 1). They were a symbol of the sinless, spotless Lamb of God.

A person suspected of idolatry was to be tried. The testimony of two or three witnesses was required. If convicted, he was to be stoned to death (vv. 2-7).

If legal problems arose which were too difficult to be handled by the elders of a city they were to be taken to a tribunal. By comparing 17:9 (NASB) with 17:12 and 19:17, it appears that there was a group of priests and a group of judges who heard these difficult cases. The high priest and the chief judge were the respective leaders, this being implied by the definite articles used in verse 12. This tribunal met at the place where God’s sanctuary was located (vv. 8-13). The decision of this tribunal was final; it was the Supreme Court of Israel. If the accused refused to accept the decision, he was to be stoned to death (vv. 12, 13).

God anticipated the desire of the people for a king by about 400 years, and He stated the qualifications for such a ruler, as follows: 1) He must be the man of God’s choice (v. 15). 2) He must be an Israelite—“from among your countrymen” (v. 15). 3) He must not multiply horses—that is, depend on such natural means for victory over his foes (v. 16). His trust must be in the Lord. 4) He must not cause the people to return to Egypt, thinking that the horses they could get there would save them (v. 16). 5) He must not multiply wives (v. 17). This is not only a prohibition against polygamy but even more especially a warning against the danger of wives who would lead him off into idolatry (v. 17). 6) He must not multiply gold and silver, since these might lure him away from dependence on the Lord (v. 17). 7) He must write, read, and obey the Law of the Lord, lest he become proud and willful (vv. 18-20). “By reading the Law continually the king was to become a model for the people.” 8) He must not be proud (v. 20).

Solomon, who ruled Israel in her golden days, violated almost every one of these injunctions, to his own destruction and the ruin of his kingdom (1 Kgs. 10:11—11:10).

Chapter 18

God’s care for the priests and Levites is again seen in verses 1-8. Because they did not receive a tribal inheritance of land, they were to be supported by the people. Their part in the offerings was the shoulder, the two cheeks (jawbones), the stomach (maw), and the firstfruits of corn, wine, oil, and fleece. Verses 6-8 describe a Levite who sold his home and moved to the place where God had placed His name to serve the Lord there. He was to share in the offerings with the other Levites, and this was in addition to whatever he received from the sale of his property. (Levites could own property even though they did not inherit a tribal possession.)

The Israelites were forbidden to have any contact with anyone who claimed to communicate with the unseen world. Eight means of communication with the spirit world are given in verses 9-14. To be blameless (v. 13) means to listen to God’s voice alone.

Verse 15 is a beautiful prophecy about Christ, the true Prophet of God (Acts 3:22, 23). Notice the description in verses 15, 18, and 19: 1) “a Prophet”—that is, one who speaks God’s word; 2) “from the midst of thee”—i.e., truly human; 3) “of thy brethren”—i.e., an Israelite; 4) “like unto Me”— i.e., like Moses in the sense of being raised up by God; 5) “I … will put My words in his mouth”—fullness of inspiration; 6) “He shall speak unto them all that I shall command him”—fullness of revelation; 7) all are responsible to listen to Him and obey Him.

This section also teaches that this Prophet would serve as a Mediator between God and man. The people had been so terrified at Mount Sinai that they asked that God would not speak to them directly anymore and that they might not see the fire anymore lest they die. In response to that request, God promised Christ as the Mediator. That this passage held Messianic hope for the Jews can be seen clearly in the Gospels (John 6:14; 7:40).

False prophets could be detected in various ways. We have previously learned that they were false if they sought to lead the people away from the worship of the true God (13:1-5). Here is another means of detection: If a prediction failed to come to pass, the prophet should be put to death, and no one need fear any curse he might pronounce (v. 22).

Chapter 19

Three cities of refuge had already been set up east of the Jordan River. Here Moses reminded the people to set up three cities on the other side, conveniently located so that a manslayer could flee there from the avenger of blood (vv. 1-7). To the previous instruction on this subject is added the provision for three additional cities of refuge, if the people ever possessed the full territory originally promised to them (vv. 8-10). No further mention is made of these three extra cities because Israel has never occupied all the land promised in Genesis 15:18. The three cities west of the Jordan were Kedesh, Hebron, and Shechem (Josh. 20:7). The city of refuge did not provide safety for a murderer; even though he fled to one of these cities, the elders were to weigh the evidence and deliver him to the avenger if he was found guilty (vv. 11-13).

A landmark was a stone placed in a field to indicate the boundary of one’s land. These could be moved secretly at night to expand one’s own farm, at the same time cheating one’s neighbor (v. 14). Why this one verse (14) is placed in the midst of a passage dealing with judicial practice—i.e., cities of refuge and witnesses false and true—is difficult to say, but its position does not obscure its teaching.

The witness of one person was not enough in a legal case. There had to be two or three witnesses (v. 15). A false witness was to be tried by the priests and Judges (17:8, 9) and punished with the penalty of the crime with which he accused the defendant (vv. 16-21). Verse 21 is not a license for cruelty, but a limit to it. In the context it refers to what kind of penalty could be inflicted upon a false witness.

Chapter 20

This chapter is a manual on warfare for God’s people. The priests were charged with encouraging the people as the battled against the enemy (vv. 1-4). Various classes were exempt from military service: 1) those who had just built a new house (v. 5); 2) those who had just planted a vineyard and had never partaken of the fruit (v. 6); 3) those whose marriage had not been consummated (v. 7); those who were fainthearted and fearful (v. 8). “The Jewish writers agree that this liberty to return was allowed only in those wars which they made voluntarily…not those which were made by the divine command against Amalek and the Canaanites, in which every man was bound to fight.”71

Unlike other nations, Israel was to make distinctions in her warfare under Jehovah’s direction. These distinctions were a further reflection of Israel as a holy people under a loving God. War was necessary, but the Lord would control the evil it caused. One has only to study the practices of other nations, like the Assyrians, to appreciate these guidelines. Instructions are given as to how war was to be waged. Notice the following distinctions:

1. Cities near and far (10-18). The cities in the land were an immediate danger, totally reprobate and fit for destruction. Cities outside the land were to be approached first with terms of peace. If they refused, only the men were to be killed; the women and children were to be spared. These cities did not pose so great a threat to contaminate Israel as did the ones within Israel’s borders.

2. Fruitful and unfruitful trees (19, 20). The principle here is that Israel was not to practice “desolation warfare.” They were to preserve what was useful instead of engaging in wholesale destruction of the land.

Chapter 21

If a man was found slain in the land, and the slaver could not be located, the elders of the nearest city were required to make atonement. They brought a heifer to a valley with running water and killed it there. Washing their hands over the heifer, they protested their innocence of the crime and asked that no bloodguiltiness should attach to them. Even when individual guilt could not be ascertained, there was still a corporate guilt that needed to be taken care of; the land had to be cleansed from the defilement of blood. This became the responsibility of the nearest city.

Someone has called verses 1-9 “God’s Great Inquest Over His Son.” Israel is bloodguilty in connection with Christ’s death and must be cleansed in a righteous way.

Verses 10-14 permitted an Israelite to marry a woman captured in warfare. (But the passage does not apply to female inhabitants of the land of Canaan.) The marriage was of a probationary nature; he could subsequently let her leave him if he was not pleased with her. However, he could not sell her.

The son of an unloved wife could not be deprived of the birthright, if he was the firstborn (vv. 15-17). These verses do not prove that God ever approved bigamy, but simply that He guarded the rights of the firstborn even in the case of multiple marriages. Sometimes God sovereignly set aside the firstborn of a family to bless the younger—e.g., Jacob and Esau, Ephraim and Manasseh. However, this was the exception, based on the selective choosing of God, and not the rule, which is stated here.

A rebellious son was to be stoned to death, after having been found guilty by the elders of the city (vv. 18-21). Compare this with the reception given to the repentant prodigal son in Luke 15.

Verses 22 and 25 definitely point forward to Christ. Though innocent Himself, He was hanged upon a tree. He was bearing the curse that we deserved. His body was not allowed to remain on the cross overnight (see John 19:31).

      To Him who suffered on the tree

      Our souls at His soul’s price to gain.

      Blessing and praise and glory be:

      Worthy the Lamb, for He was slain!

      To Him enthroned by filial right,

      All power in heaven and earth proclaim,

      Honour, and majesty, and might:

      Worthy the Lamb, for He was slain!

Chapter 22

Chapter 22 is an enlargement of Leviticus 19:18, describing the general command to “Love your neighbor.” Even a man’s enemies were to be treated with neighborly concern (Exod. 23:4, 5). An Israelite was not allowed to act indifferently toward anything lost by his neighbor. Whether it was an animal, a garment, or anything else, he was obligated to take it to his home and keep it until it was claimed (vv. 1-3). He was also obligated to assist a neighbor’s animal which had fallen (v. 4).

Men were not to wear women’s clothing, nor vice versa (v. 5). God hates the confusing of the sexes.

Young birds could be taken from a bird’s nest, but the mother had to be freed (vv. 6, 7).

A parapet or railing had to be built around the flat roof of a house to prevent people from falling off (v. 8).

The Jews were forbidden to: 1) sow a vineyard with mixed seed (v. 9); 2) plow with an ox (clean) and an ass (unclean) yoked together (v. 10); 3) wear clothes made of a mixture of wool and linen (v. 11). The first prohibition suggests adding to the pure teaching of the Word of God. The second describes the unequal yoke in service. The third speaks of the mixture of righteousness and unrighteousness in the practical life of the believer.

Jews were supposed to wear tassels on the borders of their garments (v. 12). The reason for these tassels is given in Numbers 15:37 and following.

Verses 13-21 deals with the case of a man who married a maiden and then suspected that she was not a virgin. Evidence of virginity were marks on the linen of the marriage bed after a woman’s first sex experience. If the father and mother could produce evidence of the maiden’s virginity, the husband was chastised, fined a hundred shekels of silver, and required to live with her (vv. 15-19). If, however, the young woman had not been chaste before her marriage, then she was to be stoned to death (vv. 20, 21).

The remaining verses of this chapter deal with various types of sexual immorality; 1) Both man and woman found in the act of adultery were to be put to death (v. 22). 2) If a man raped a betrothed woman in the city, and she did not cry out for help, then both were guilty of adultery and were to be put to death (vv. 23, 24). 3) If a man raped a betrothed woman in a field, where her cries for help could not be heard, then the man was to be killed, but the woman was innocent (vv. 25-27). 4) A man who had sexual relations with a virgin was required to pay 50 shekels of silver to her father and also to marry her (vv. 28, 29). 5) Verse 30 forbids incest—i.e., sexual relations with a member of the family.

Chapter 23

Various persons were barred from entering the congregation of the Lord, that is, from full rights as citizens and worshipers: 1) a man whose reproductive organs were damaged or missing (v. 1); 2) an illegitimate person—i.e., one born out of wedlock (v. 2); 3) an Ammonite or Moabite (vv. 3-6); 4) an Edomite or Egyptian (vv. 7, 8). Verse 4 says that Moab did not “meet the Israelites with food and drink,” whereas Deuteronomy 2:29 implies that certain Moabites sold food supplies to the Jews. “To meet with bread and water” is an idiomatic expression meaning to give a hospitable reception. This the Moabites did not do.

The eunuch, the illegitimate person, the Moabite, and the Ammonite were barred from the assembly to the tenth generation. The Edomite and the Egyptian could enter after three generations. However, there were exceptions to these general rules when individuals sought Jehovah. Among David’s mighty men could be found both an Ammonite and a Moabite (1 Chron. 11:39, 46). Some think that the rules of exclusion applied only to males and therefore did not apply to Ruth, for example. Some think that “the tenth generation” means indefinitely.

Verse 9 warns against the temptations that face men who are away from home in military service. (Or perhaps it serves as an introduction to verses 10-14.) Verses 12-14 describe the disposal of sewage. Each soldier was required to carry a shovel with his weapons. All excrement was to he covered immediately with dirt. If all armies down through history had followed this simple regulation, they would have avoided the black plague many times.

A foreign slave who had escaped to freedom was not to be delivered up to his master (vv. 15, 16). Thus Israel was to be an asylum for the oppressed.

Male or female prostitution was not to be tolerated in the land, and money derived from such immoral traffic should never be brought to the house of the Lord in payment of a vow. (A “dog” in verse 18 means a male prostitute.)

Jews were not to charge interest on anything they loaned to another Jew, though it was permitted for them to charge interest to a foreigner (vv. 19, 20). This is another expansion of the principle already given in Exodus 22:25, which forbade exacting usury from the poor.

Vows were voluntary. A man did not have to make a vow to the Lord, but once he made it, he was obligated to fulfill it (vv. 21-24).

Travelers were allowed to help themselves to grapes for their current needs, but they were not allowed to carry any away in a container (v. 24). Likewise, they were allowed to take grain from a field, but only what they could pick with their hands (v. 25). In our Lord’s day, His 12 disciples made use of this privilege (Mark 2:23).

Chapter 24

A man could divorce his wife by writing a bill of divorcement and giving it to her. She was then free to marry someone else. But if her second husband died or divorced her, the first husband was not allowed to marry her again (vv. 1-4). Jehovah gave Israel a writ of divorcement (Jer. 3:1-8); yet in a future day He will take her to Himself again, having purged Her of her unfaithfulness. Oh, the depths of the riches of the love of God; how low He stoops to love the unlovable!

A man who was newly married was not required to go to war for the first year (v. 5). This gave him time to cultivate and strengthen the marriage bond and to start a family. If he had to go to war and was killed, his name would be cut off from Israel unless his kinsman redeemer raised up seed for him. The kinsman redeemer was the nearest relative who was able and willing to marry the widow. The first male born to such a union became the heir of the former husband. This continued the family name and kept the land in the family. Since a millstone was a man’s means of livelihood, it could not be required as a pledge in a business transaction. To take either the lower or upper millstone would deprive him of the means of grinding his grain (v. 6). A kidnapper or a slave trader was to be put to death (v. 7). Special precautions were to be observed in the event of an attack of leprosy (vv. 8, 9). A man’s home could not be invaded to obtain a pledge from him. If the man gave his clothing as a pledge, it was to be returned to him each night so that he could sleep in it (vv. 10-13). The wages of a hired servant should be paid promptly (vv. 14, 15). No man was to be put to death for another’s sin (v. 16). Justice was to be shown to foreigners, orphans, and widows (vv. 17, 18). A field was not to be completely harvested. Gleanings were to be left for the poor and the helpless. The same applied to the harvesting of olives and grapes (vv. 19-22). “The memory of their own poverty and oppression in Egypt was to prompt them to leave generous gleanings for the poor sojourner, the widow, and the fatherless.”72 When John Newton was born again, he printed verse 22 in large letters and hung it over his mantelpiece, where he would be constantly reminded of it.

Chapter 25

When an offender was found guilty and was sentenced to be beaten, he was not to receive more than 40 stripes (vv. 1-3). The Jews commonly inflicted 39 stripes, lest they miscount and thus transgress this regulation (see 2 Cor. 11:24). The ox that trod out the grain was not to be muzzled but be allowed to eat some of the grain (v. 4). Paul uses this verse in 1 Corinthians 9:9-11 to teach that the man who labors in spiritual things should be taken care of in material things. Thus Paul shows us that there is a spiritual aspect to the Law. This does not minimize the literal meaning; it only shows that many times there is a spiritual lesson under the surface. The diligent student will look for and heed this important spiritual lesson.

If an Israelite died and left his widow without a son, there was the danger that his name might perish and his property pass out of the family. ‘Therefore, a brother of the dead man was supposed to marry the widow (vv. 5, 6). This practice of “Levirate” marriages existed in many ancient nations. If the brother would not agree to do this, then the widow went to the elders of the city and announced this fact. He was called before the elders and given an opportunity to confirm his unwillingness. If he persisted in his refusal, the widow removed one of his sandals and spat in his face. From henceforth he was known by a name of reproach because of his unwillingness to perpetuate his brother’s house (vv. 7-10). Leviticus 20:21 forbade a man to marry his brother’s wife; here he is commanded to marry her. The passage in Leviticus probably applied when the husband was still living, while Deuteronomy refers to a time when the husband is dead, having left behind no male heir.

If a woman interfered immodestly in a fight in which her husband was involved, her offending hand was to be cut off (vv. 11, 12). Her actions might endanger the man’s having an heir; thus the severe penalty.

Honest weights and measures were required (vv. 13-16). Often men had one set of scales for buying and another for selling. This was abominable to the Lord.

The descendants of Amalek were to be utterly destroyed because of his treachery and cruelty (Exod. 17:8-16). Israel is told not to forget to destroy the Amalekites, but it seems as though they did. Saul disobeyed the Lord in not exterminating them in his day (1 Sam. 15). In fact, it was not until the days of Hezekiah that “they destroyed the remnant of the Amalekites who escaped” (1 Chron. 4:43 NASB).

Chapter 26

After the people were settled in the land, they were supposed to go to God’s sanctuary and present the firstfruits to the priest in joyful recognition of what God had done. Then they were to rehearse the Lord’s gracious dealings with them, beginning with their ancestor, Jacob (a wandering Aramean—v. 5), going on to the slavery in Egypt, God’s wonderful deliverance, and concluding with their possession of the land flowing with milk and honey (vv. 1-11). “In the Scriptures the picture portrayed of the Promised Land, to which God tried so hard to lead Israel from Egypt, was that of a ‘land flowing with milk and honey.’ Not only is this figurative language but also essentially scientific terminology. In agricultural terms we speak of a ‘milk flow’ and a ‘honey flow.’ By this we mean the peak season of spring and summer, when pastures are at their most productive stages. The livestock that feed on the forage and the bees that visit the blossoms are said to be producing a corresponding ‘flow’ of milk or honey. So a land flowing with milk and honey is a land of rich, green, luxuriant pastures. And when God spoke of such a land for Israel He also foresaw such an abundant life of joy and victory and contentment for His people.”73

In addition to the above firstfrnits, the Jews were to offer a second tithe, called the festival tithe, which was to be shared with the Levite, the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow every third year. This tithe was to be distributed to the needy in their own towns (v. 12). The people then had to testify before the Lord that they had obeyed all of the commands concerning the tithe (vv. 13-15).

Because the people had agreed to walk in the ways of the Lord, He in turn acknowledged them as His own people and promised to exalt them above all other peoples (vv. 16-19). They were a holy people (v. 19) because God had set them apart from the other nations—not because of any intrinsic merit. They were different from any other nation on earth, being the peculiar treasure of Jehovah (v. 18). Their response to such an honor was supposed to be obedience to His commands.

Chapter 27

After they crossed the Jordan River into the Promised Land, the Israelites were to raise up a large monument of stones, plaster it, and write the Law upon it. This monument was to be erected on Mount Ebal, together with an altar which was to be made with uncut stones (vv. 1-8).

The Jews had been God’s people by His choosing for some time, but now that they were about to enter the land, they became His people in a special sense {v. 9). The favor He was showing to them called for loving obedience on their part.

Six tribes were appointed to stand on Mount Gerizim in order to “Amen” the blessings (v. 12). “These six tribes were descendants of Leah and Rachel. The other tribes were to stand on Mount Ebal to confirm the curses (v. 13). Notice that Ephraim and Manasseh aren’t mentioned separately, but instead the tribe of Joseph is listed. Reuben, Israel’s firstborn (who lost his birthright) and Zebulun, Leah’s youngest, were on Mount Ebal with the sons of the handmaids. The favored tribes were on Mount Gerizim.

The Levitical priests (see v. 9) were to stand in the valley between the two mountains. As they pronounced the curses or blessings, the people were to answer “Amen.” The curses are given in verses 15-26. They have to do with idolatry (v. 15); disrespect of parents (v. 16); dishonesty in removing boundary lines (v. 17); deceiving the blind (v. 18): taking advantage of the poor and defenseless (v. 19); various forms of incest (vv. 20, 22, 23) and other sexual vices (v. 21); secret murder of one’s neighbor (v. 24): murder of the innocent for a reward (v. 25); and disobedience to the Law of God (v. 26). The historical account of this ceremony can be found in Joshua 8:80 and following. Notice how closely Joshua follows the instruct ions given by Moses.

It is significant that only the curses are given in Chapter 27. It could not be otherwise because, as Paul reminds us, “… as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse” (Gal. 3:10). It was not merely that the Israelites would transgress the law, but that they were under the law as a principle.

Chapter 28

Verse 1 refers to the end of chapter 27 with the words, “God will set you on high.” This gives chapter 27 the appearance of being parenthetical.

Many Bible students feel that the blessings pronounced in verses 3-6 were not those addressed to the six tribes on Mount Gerizim, but that this entire chapter is a statement by Moses as to what lay ahead for the children of Israel. The first 14 verses speak of the blessings that would follow obedience, whereas the last 54 verses describe the curses that would fall upon the people if they forsook the Lord. The blessings promised include preeminence among the nations, material prosperity, fruitfulness, fertility, abundance of crops, victory in battle, and success in international trade (vv. 1-14).

The curses included scarcity, barrenness, crop failure, pestilence, disease, blight, drought, defeat in battle, madness, fright, adversity, calamity, and powerlessness (vv. 15-32). Verses 33-37 predict captivity in a foreign land, and this was fulfilled by the Assyrian and Babylonian captivities.

Israel would become a “proverb” to the other nations (v. 37). The word in the original is “sheneena,” which closely resembles the contemptuous word “sheenie,” still used by Gentiles in speaking of Jews.

There is no contradiction between verses 12 and 44. If obedient, the Jews would become international lenders. If disobedient, they would have to borrow from strangers.

The horrors of a siege by a foreign invader are described in verses 49-57—so fierce that the people would eat one another. This came to pass when Jerusalem was besieged by the Babylonians and later by the Romans. At both times, cannibalism was widespread.

Plagues and disease would greatly reduce the population of Israel (vv. 58-62). The survivors would be scattered throughout the earth, and there they would live in constant fear of persecution (vv. 63-68). God would even bring His people into Egypt again. According to Josephus, the prophecy that Israel would go to Egypt again was partially fulfilled in the time of Titus, when Jews were taken there by ship and sold as slaves. But the name “Egypt” here may mean servitude in general. God had delivered Israel from slavery in the past, but if she would not love Him and acknowledge His sovereign right to her obedience, if she would not keep herself pure as His wife, if she would not be His peculiar treasure, choosing instead to be like the other nations, then she would be sold back into slavery (v. 68). But by then she would be so crushed that no one would want her.

“Unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required” (Luke 12:48). Israel had been given privileges above all other nations, and therefore her accountability was greater and her punishment more severe.

To meditate on these curses leaves one amazed at the outpouring of Jehovah’s wrath. No words are minced, no details are left to the imagination. Moses paints the picture with bold, stark realism. Israel must know what disobedience will bring in order that she may learn “to fear this honored and awesome name, THE LORD YOUR GOD” (v. 58 NASB).

Chapter 29

The first verse of chapter 29 belongs to the previous chapter, as in the Hebrew Bible.

The people had broken the covenant which Clod made with them at Mount Sinai. Now Moses called upon them to ratify the covenant contained here in the book of Deuteronomy made on the plains of Moab, just prior to their entrance into the land. The people lacked an understanding of the Lord and His purposes for them. Jehovah longed to give them a heart to know, eyes to see, and ears to hear (v. 4), but they rendered themselves unfit to receive these things through their continual unbelief and disobedience. Israel had enjoyed manna from heaven and water from the rock; she did not depend on the things manufactured by man for her survival (i.e., bread, wine, strong drink). This was in order that she might come to know the Lord her God in all of His faithfulness and love (v. 6).

As an incentive to keep the covenant, Moses once again reviewed the goodness of God to Israel—the miracles in Egypt, the mighty deliverance, the 40 years in the wilderness, the defeat of Sihon and Og, and the distribution of the trans-Jordan land to Reuben, Gad, and the half-tribe of Manasseh (vv. 2-9).

Moses called upon all the people to enter into the sworn covenant of the Lord (vv. 10-13) and reminded them that the covenant applied to their posterity as well (vv. 14, 15). Failure to keep the covenant would result in bitter punishment (vv. 16-28). Rebels should beware of any temptation to serve the idols of the Gentile nations or to think that they would escape God’s wrath if they did so (vv. 16-21). Verse 19 in the Revised Standard Version reads: “One who, when he hears the words of this sworn covenant, blesses himself in his heart saying, ‘I shall be safe, though I walk in the stubbornness of my heart.’ This would lead to the sweeping away of moist and dry alike.” No one would escape.

Generations to come, and foreign nations as well, would be amazed at the desolation of Israel and would ask the reason why the land should have been treated like the cities of the plain—Sodom, Gomorrah, Admah, Zeboiim (vv. 22-24). The answer would be given, “Because they have forsaken the covenant of the Lord God of their fathers … and served other gods” (vv. 25-28).

While there are certain secret things that belong to the Lord, Moses reminded the people that their responsibility was clear—to keep the covenant of the Lord (v. 29). What verse 29 is saying is that revelation brings responsibility. Men are accountable to obey, not to sit in judgment upon the word of the Lord. This principle can be found many times in the New Testament also. “To one who knows the right thing to do [revelation] and does not do it [responsibility], to him it is sin” (Jas. 4:17 NASB).

Chapter 30

This chapter anticipates that the people would break the covenant and be carried away into exile (v. 1), which is, of course, what happened. Even then, God would restore them if they would turn to Him in repentance. He would bring them back into the land. In addition to this physical restoration, there would be a spiritual renewal (“the Lord your God will circumcise your heart”—v. 6). The people would then enjoy the blessings of obedience, whereas their enemies would be cursed (vv. 1-10). The counsels of the Most High will not fail, even though the objects of those counsels do fail. God would fulfill His word to the patriarchs and give their descendants the land forever. After the exile, which He knew was inevitable, He would restore them and change them. Such is the working of the unconditional love of the great Lover! Verse 6 touches on a theme developed hundreds of years later by the prophets—namely, the new covenant (Jer. 32:39ff; Ezek. 36:24ff). This covenant, although revealed in the Old Testament, was not ratified until the death of Christ, for His was the blood of the new covenant (Luke 22:20).

Moses reminded the people that the covenant was not too hard for them to understand, nor was it inaccessible. They were not required to do the impossible to find it. The Lord had brought it to them, and their responsibility was to obey it (vv. 11-14). These verses are used by Paul in Romans 10:5-8 and are applied to Christ and the gospel. The covenant was not easy to keep, but God had made provision in case of failure. The people were then required to repent and to bring the appointed sacrifices. Since the sacrifices were types of Christ, the lesson is that those who sin should repent and put their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. The people were called upon to choose between life and death—life for obedience, or death for disobedience. Moses strongly entreated them to choose life and blessing (vv. 15-20).

Chapter 31

Moses was now 120 years old. He knew God’s decree stating that he would not be allowed to cross the Jordan with the people, but he reminded the people that the Lord would go with them, that Joshua would be their captain, and that victory over their enemies was assured (vv. 1-6). Moses next encouraged Joshua publicly concerning his new appointment and assured hint of the Lord’s presence (vv. 7, 8).

The written Law was entrusted to the Levites. It was to be kept beside the ark. The two tablets of the Decalogue were placed inside the ark (Exod. 25:16; Heb. 9:4). This copy of the Law was placed beside the ark. Every seven years the Law was to be read in the presence of all the people (vv. 9-13).

As Moses’ death drew near, God called him and Joshua to the tent of meeting and appeared before them in a pillar of cloud (vv. 14, 15). He first revealed to Moses that the Israelites would soon give themselves over to idolatry and suffer God’s anger. Then He commanded Moses to write down a song and teach it to the people as a witness against them in days to come (vv. 16-22).

God personally commissioned Joshua to lead His people into the Promised Land and encouraged him to be brave and strong (v. 23). Joshua must have been strengthened by these words from Jehovah. He had just heard God speak of a com- ing national apostasy (v. 16), and he needed to be reassured rather than discouraged, for the task ahead.

The written Law, committed to the Levites, would also serve as a witness against the Israelites when they forsook the Lord (vv. 24-27).

Then Moses delivered the following song to the elders and officers, as God had commanded him (vv. 28-30).

Chapter 32

The song may be summarized as follows:

The universe is summoned to hear the word of the Lord. It is refreshing and nourishing, like the rain and the dew (vv. 1-3). In verse 3 (which could serve as a title to the song) Moses speaks of ascribing greatness to God. The song reveals God’s greatness in the context of His historical dealings with His people.

In spite of God’s greatness, justice, faithfulness, and holiness, the people of Israel forsook Him and sinned against Him. The glory of Jehovah’s attributes are displayed here against the dark backdrop of Israel’s innate wickedness (vv. 4, 5). It was small thanks He received for being their Father and Creator (v. 6). When God divided the earth among the Gentile nations, He first provided for the needs of His own people. Such was His love and care for them (vv. 7-9).

The birth and childhood of the nation of Israel are described in verse 10, after the Exodus from Egypt. God guided, instructed, and preserved His people with the love of a mother eagle (v. 11). There was no other god who had a part in Israel’s preservation (v. 12). Why then should the nation turn to idolatry and ascribe the goodness of Jehovah to another? He brought them into the blessings of the Promised Land (vv. 13, 14). But Jeshurun (a poetic name for the people of Israel meaning “upright people”) rebelled against Jehovah by turning to idols. They chose to sacrifice to demons, many times offering their own children. They even sank to the stupidity of worshiping new gods. Thus they neglected their true Rock; they forgot their true Father (vv. 15-18). As a result, the Lord hid His face from them (vv. 19, 20). This hiding of His face was fulfilled in their being sold into captivity.

Alter setting Israel aside, God acted in grace toward the Gentiles, seeking to provoke Israel to jealousy (as in the present church age) (v. 21). Israel in the meantime would be scattered and persecuted (vv. 22-33). The people would not be totally destroyed, though, because Jehovah did not want Israel’s enemies to misinterpret the nation’s downfall (v. 27). It was not that their enemies’ rock was stronger, but that Israel’s Rock had given them up to slaughter because of their wickedness (vv. 28-33). Verses 34-42 have to do with God’s vengeance upon the nations that were used to punish Israel. Vengeance (v. 35) and vindication (v. 36) belong to the Lord. He has sworn by Himself (for there is no one greater) to deal with His adversaries. Notice how completely this judgment will be carried out (vv. 41, 42). As a result, God’s people and all the nations are to rejoice, for God has avenged Himself and made atonement “for His land and His people” (v. 43 NASB).

The song thus gives a historical and prophetical outline of the nation of Israel. Having read the song, Moses solemnly urged the people to follow the Lord (vv. 44-47). Then Jehovah called Moses to the top of Mount Nebo, where he would be allowed to view the land. He would not be allowed to enter Canaan because of his sin at Meribah-kadesh, but would die on Mount Nebo (vv. 48-52) and be buried in a valley in Moab (34:6).

Chapter 33

The Hebrew wording in this chapter is obscure in many places; thus there are various opinions and interpretations offered by different commentators. It is not within the scope of this survey to go into detail as to the possible Hebrew renderings: we just suggest a short, prophetical view of each blessing.

As his final official act, Moses pronounced a blessing on the tribes of Israel. Verses 2-5 celebrate God’s loving care for His own people. At Sinai He gave the Law (v. 2). Seir and Mount Paran were on the route front Sinai to Canaan. In poetic language, Moses describes the Lord leading His people on to victory. Then follow the individual blessings:

Reuben. Situated east of the Jordan River and immediately north of Moab, Reuben would be vulnerable to attack; hence the prayer that the tribe would not become extinct but would be populous.

Simeon is not mentioned. It was closely associated with Judah and may be included in that blessing.

Judah. This tribe would be a leader in the conquest of Canaan. The Lord is asked to help the warriors and bring them back safely to their people.

Levi. God’s Thummim and Urim belonged to Levi, the tribe whose leaders, Moses and Aaron, were criticized by the people at Massah and Meribah. Levi was also the tribe that took sides with God against its own people when the latter worshiped the golden calf. Levi was set apart to teach the people and to present sacrifices. Moses prays that the Lord will bless his skills, find pleasure in his service, and destroy his enemies.

Benjamin. The temple, God’s dwelling place on earth, would be located in Benjamin’s territory, surrounded by shouldering hills. Therefore Benjamin is pictured as a beloved tribe, enjoying intimate communion with the Lord.

Joseph’s territory would be watered by dew front above and springs from beneath. It would be unusually fruitful, enjoying the goodwill of the One who revealed Himself in the burning bush. Majestic and powerful, Joseph’s two sons would conquer nations.

Zebulun and Issachar. Successful at home and abroad, they would lead nations to worship at Jerusalem, the mountain of the Lord. These tribes would feast on the treasures of the sea and of the land. Since there is no record of their leading nations to worship, and since both tribes were land- locked in the: past, this blessing may look forward to the Millennium.

Gad. God gave this tribe a large territory east of the Jordan. Gad fought like a lion to capture and preserve it. It was choice pastureland that he chose for himself—“the leader’s portion” (NIV). But he also joined with the leaders of the people to conquer the land west of the Jordan, thus carrying out the Lord’s righteous will.

Dan is compared to a lion’s cub, ferocious and strong, striking suddenly from ambush. Dan’s original territory was in the southeast of Canaan, but he migrated to the northeast and seized additional land adjoining Bashan.

Naphtali was located in northeast Canaan and extended south to the Sea of Galilee. The tribe was honored with the favor and blessing of the Lord.

Asher’s blessing includes numerous posterity, good relations with the other tribes, a land flowing with olive oil, “fortresses” (Keil) of iron and brass, and strength as needed.

The closing verses (vv. 26-29) celebrate the greatness of God as He acts in behalf of His people, as well as the future blessedness of Israel.

Chapter 34

Even if the death of Moses here was recorded by someone else, this does not affect the fact that the rest of the Pentateuch was written by Moses. After Moses had seen the land, he died on Mount Nebo and was buried in a secret place by the Lord. Doubtless the reason for the secrecy was to prevent men from making a shrine at the lawgiver’s tomb and worshiping him there. Moses was 120 years old at the time of his death, but he was still strong, alert, and keen. This statement is not in contradiction with 31:2. The reason Moses could no longer lead the people was not physical but spiritual. God had told him he would not lead the people into Canaan (31:2) (because of his sin), even though physically he was able to do so (34:7).

Joshua then assumed his duties as commander-in-chief (v. 9). Moses had confirmed Joshua as his successor according to the word of the Lord in Numbers 27:18-23. Thus his servant became his successor, a further testimony to Moses’ humility.

Note the tribute paid to Moses in verses 10-12. Of few men could these words ever be spoken. Of course, when these closing verses were written, the Messiah had not yet appeared. Verse 10 was true only up to the time of Christ’s first advent.

“Now Moses was faithful in all His house as a servant” (Heb. 3:5 NASB). Because of his sin he died; his burial place is unknown. But his antitype, the Lord Jesus, “was faithful as a Son over His house” (Heb. 3:6). It was for our sins that He died; His burial place is empty because He has ascended to the right hand of the Father in heaven. “Therefore, holy brethren, partakers of a heavenly calling, consider Jesus, the Apostle and High Priest of our confession… For He has been counted worthy of more glory than Moses, by just so much as the builder of the house has more honor than the house” (Heb. 3:1,3 NASB).