January 2013: Introductory Notes to Deuteronomy
“Deuteronomy” in Greek means “second law.” It comes from Deut. 17:18, and also from the fact that in this book Moses was restating the Law to the new generation. This book does not contain a new Law, it is a second stating of the original Law.
There are several reasons why Moses restated the Law on the border of Canaan.
A. A new generation.
The old generation (except for Caleb and Joshua) had perished in the wilderness, and the new generation needed to hear the Law again. We all have short memories, and these people were twenty years of age and under when the nation failed decades before at Kadesh-Barnea.
It was important that they know God’s Word afresh and realize how important it is to obey God.
B. A new challenge.
Up to now, the nation’s life had been unsettled; they had been pilgrims. But now they were to enter their Promised Land and become a settled nation. There would be battles to fight, and they needed to be prepared. The best way to prepare for the future is to understand the past. “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it,” a famous philosopher has said. Moses wanted the nation to remember what God had done.
C. A new leader.
Moses was about to die, and Joshua would take over the leadership of the nation. Moses knew that the success of the nation depended on the people obeying God, no matter who their human leader might be. If they were grounded in the Word and loved the Lord, they would follow Joshua and win the victory.
D. New temptations.
A settled people in the land would face different problems than a pilgrim people in the wilderness. Moses wanted them not only to possess the land, but also to maintain that possession, so he warned them of the dangers and gave them the way of success.
In a spiritual sense, too many Christians stand with Israel in Deut. 1:1–3. They are redeemed from Egypt, but they have not yet entered into their spiritual inheritance. They stand “on this side of Jordan” instead of in the Promised Land of blessing. They need to hear God’s Word again and step out by faith to claim their inheritance in Christ.
E. A deeper message.
As we read Deuteronomy, we cannot help but be impressed with the deeper message Moses gives concerning the spiritual life of his people. We find the word “love” repeated at least twenty times in the book, an emphasis not found in Genesis through Numbers. “Love for God and God’s love for the people” is a new theme in Deuteronomy (4:37; 6:4–6; 7:6–13; 10:12; 11:1; 30:6, 16, 20). While the previous books certainly speak of love and prove God’s love for Israel, Deuteronomy emphasizes this theme as never before. The word “heart” is also important: the Word must be in their hearts (5:29; 6:6); sin begins in the heart (7:17ff and 8:11–20); and they must love God from the heart (10:12). In other words, Moses makes it clear that blessings come when the heart is right. In order for the people to possess and enjoy the land, their hearts had to be filled with love for God and His Word.
F. A book for everyone.
Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers were “technical books” belonging in a special way to the priests and Levites, but Deuteronomy was written for everyone. While it repeats many of the laws found in previous books, it gives a new and deeper meaning to these laws and shows what they meant in the everyday lives of the people. All of us today can learn much from Deuteronomy about loving God and obeying His will.
We list here several of the key words of this book and the number of times they are found in the King James Version: land (153); inherit (36); possess (65); hear (44); hearken (27); heart (46); love (20). Putting these repeated words together, we can quickly see the emphasis of the book: you will go in and possess the land if you hear God’s Word, love Him, and hearken (obey). If we love God, we will obey Him; and if we obey, He will bless.
WWiersbe’s Expository Outlines on the Old Testament. Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.
February 2013: Discovering Deuteronomy
The wilderness years
It is forty years since the exodus. Only Moses, Caleb and Joshua remember the great day when Israel escaped from slavery in Egypt. Now Moses tells the story again for the next generation. He remembers how God called them at Horeb (Mount Sinai) to cross the desert, challenge and defeat the tribes of Canaan and occupy the land between the Mediterranean Sea and the River Euphrates. This is the Promised Land that God swore to give their ancestor Abraham, and which they are now about to possess.
The delay of disobedience
Moses recalls the terrible burden of trying to care for so many people, and how the problem was resolved by sharing leadership. He describes how the spies were sent ahead and how they brought back reports of a good land but a powerful enemy. It was when the Israelites refused to trust God and go on to victory that they were sentenced to spend the rest of their lives in the desert. A journey that should have taken eleven days in fact lasted forty years. Moses was included in this failure and it is Joshua who will now lead the invasion of Canaan.
Learning to trust God
Moses tells how the extra time in the desert has been used to build up Israel’s trust in God. The people have discovered how God guides and provides. He gave them resounding victories over Sihon and the daunting Amorites, and over Og, the giant king of Bashan. Og’s bed (made of iron) was thirteen feet long and six feet wide! All this is important experience for the campaign ahead. If God could defeat Sihon and Og, then he can give victory over the strongholds of Canaan.
‘The Lord is God’
Moses tells Israel that her strength lies in obedience to God. She must never forget the darkness and fire of Mount Sinai, when God gave her the Ten Commandments. The law is Israel’s greatest treasure. It is to be learned, digested, lived — and taught to the children of every future generation. God is invisible and not to be imaged or modelled as an idol. It will be Israel’s privileged task, by her obedience, to show the reality of God to the nations of the world. Moses warns the Israelites that if they turn to idol-worship they will lose their land and not regain it until they repent.
God’s law and other instructions
The Ten Commandments
Moses recites the Ten Commandments. These laws are for the people here and now. They are not to be dismissed as applying only to the old days.
God identifies himself by what he has done. He brought his people out of Egypt. They are to have no other gods. He is invisible. They must not try to make an image of God or express him in terms of heavenly bodies or earthly creatures. Any idol of God would be pitifully inadequate and dangerously misleading. Instead, God wishes to be known by his passion for his people: his jealousy for their love, his hatred of their wickedness and his lasting commitment to their well-being.
God’s name is utterly holy. It sums up his personality and purpose. It is a serious thing to abuse God’s name, by taking it lightly or using it to endorse empty promises.
The sabbath day is to be kept holy. It is a day when the whole community — including servants, animals, visitors and strangers — has time and space to rest and reflect.
Children are to honour their parents. Families are to be bonded by obedience as well as affection. Elderly parents are to be provided for by their children. Soundly built families make a strong and stable society.
Human life, marriage, possessions and reputations are all to be respected. In particular, jealousy is to be tackled at source — in the heart. A neighbour is any fellow human being — not just a person who lives nearby. Another person’s partner and possessions are not negotiable. Don’t even think it!
‘Love the Lord your God’
God’s law is a guide for living in total commitment to God. God’s law is to be Israel’s delight and magnificent obsession:
Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands, and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the door-frames of your houses and on your gates (6:5–9).
These verses are the Hebrew ‘Shema’, which pious Jews recite twice a day.
‘Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads.’ Orthodox Jews take these words literally and have copies of the law in containers (phylacteries), tied to their wrists and foreheads. God’s law is to govern their personal, family and public life.
In later centuries there will be much debate about which is the most important law. Many people choose this verse as their summary: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.’ Jesus agrees, adding the phrase, ‘with all your mind’. In Hebrew, the ‘heart’ is the centre of the mind and will — not just the emotions. For Jesus this is ‘the most important’ commandment (Mark 12:28–34).
Extracted from the Bible Guide
March 2013: Discovering Deuteronomy
Destroying pagan nations
The Israelites are told to destroy the pagan tribes of Canaan. They are to break down their altars, cut down their Asherah poles (fertility symbols) and burn their idols. All temptations to compromise with paganism by preserving idols, intermarrying with the people or even sparing their lives is strictly forbidden. This is not an ethnic cleansing as much as a spiritual purge. It is vital that God’s holy people have a new start in a clean land. Even things as neutral as silver and gold are to be rejected, in case Israel relies on them instead of God. All their attitudes, standards and dealings are to reflect the holiness of God, because he has saved and loved them — and because that’s what he is like.
‘Do not forget…’
Moses warns the Israelites not to forget the lessons of the desert. It was here that they learned that the Lord provides — and that there is more to life than filling your stomach. Jesus quotes this chapter when the devil tempts him to turn stones into bread: ‘One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God’ (Matthew 4:4, quoting Deuteronomy 8:3).
Moses is here a superb teacher and pastor. He is interpreting the hard lessons of the desert as examples of God’s love. He also sees that when life gets easier, faith in God will become harder. It will seem to the Israelites that they have deserved their good life, by luck, prowess or hard work. In fact it is God’s gift to them. The earth’s natural resources and human ability to produce wealth are both aspects of God’s covenant care. They should be grateful rather than proud.
‘Not because of your righteousness’
When the Israelites enter Canaan, God will enable them to defeat even the legendary Anakites, who are like giants. They will be able to do this, not because they themselves are powerful or good, but because God is with them. They will conquer Canaan because they are executing God’s judgment on the Canaanites’ wickedness, not because the Israelites are righteous. The Israelites are ‘stiff-necked’ — resistant to guidance and almost impossible to train. They made and worshipped an idol, a golden calf, even while Moses was on Sinai receiving God’s law. The Israelites smashed the Ten Commandments from the start. It was only Moses’ earnest prayer that dissuaded God from destroying them there and then.
Staying loyal to God
Moses warns the people not to forget God when they come into the wealth and comfort of the new land. They are to depend on God just as much as they did in the desert, when they relied on him for every crumb of food and every sip of water. In the future Jesus will quote these verses to counter the temptations of the devil (Matthew 4:1–11). When challenged to throw himself from the highest point of the temple, Jesus answers, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test’ (Matthew 4:7, quoting Deuteronomy 6:16). When invited to worship the devil in return for a world empire, Jesus replies, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only’ (Matthew 4:10, quoting Deuteronomy 6:13). These commandments are not only to do with trusting and obeying God, but also about being loyal to him
Taken from the Bible Guide
April 2013: Discovering Deuteronomy
‘Fear the Lord your God’
Moses recalls how he cut two new stone tablets for the law and made a wooden chest, the ark of the covenant, for their safe keeping. There is a note in brackets that Aaron died and Eleazar became high priest, and that the tribe of Levi was given the task of carrying the ark and pronouncing blessings. Perhaps this was added in later years by an editor who was himself a priest.
Moses comes to one of the great conclusions of his story:
And now, O Israel, what does the Lord your God ask of you but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to observe the Lord’s commands and decrees that I am giving you today (10:12–13)?
God is supreme over his creation, and greater than all he has made. By an almost incredible act of grace, he has set his heart on this little, obstinate people of Israel. The Israelites must ‘circumcise their hearts’ — change their minds about God and cut away their resistance to him. They must realize that God is absolutely fair in all his dealings, protecting the weak and providing for the outsider. The Israelites should always remember what it was like to be helpless, when they were slaves in Egypt.
The blessings of obedience
The land of Canaan is fertile and watered by rains and rivers — unlike Egypt, which was laboriously irrigated by channels from the Nile. Moses warns the Israelites that if they lapse into paganism, then God will punish them with drought and dearth. The Israelites have a choice. If they keep God’s commands, he will continue to bless them. If they disobey God’s commands, he will curse them. When they come into the land they will hold a ceremony on the twin mountains of Gerizim and Ebal, proclaiming God’s blessings from one and his curses from the other.
One place of worship
Now Moses gives more detailed rules for life in Canaan. Every sign of paganism is to be destroyed — especially the altars on the summits of mountains, on the tops of hills and under trees. God will show the Israelites one central place of worship, where they are to offer sacrifices and bring gifts to the one and only God. As time goes by, there will be a number of major shrines. An altar will be built on Mount Ebal. Shiloh and Shechem will both become places of pilgrimage. Finally, Jerusalem will be the spiritual centre, established by King David and with the temple built by his son Solomon.
Even so, what matters is not where ‘the place’ is, but whose name is worshipped there. Moses warns the Israelites that they must have nothing to do with the pagan practices of other nations — not even be curious to know what they do. Pagan worship is savage and senseless, including the killing and burning of children.
Warnings against other gods
Purity of faith is crucial. Anyone who preaches lies about God is to be put to death even if that person is your own wife. Any town which switches its allegiance to other gods is to be destroyed and left as a ruin. These drastic rules show the seriousness with which God takes false belief and misguided religion.
Taken from the Bible Guide
May 2013: Discovering Deuteronomy
Clean and unclean food
Moses repeats the laws of diet and hygiene which are also found in the book of Leviticus. He gives again the guidelines for knowing which animals, birds and fish are ‘clean’ and which are ‘unclean’.
These food laws show that Israel is distinct from other nations in her belief and behaviour. One day this distinctiveness will be based on Christ, and food laws will no longer matter (Mark 7:18–19; Acts 10:11–16).
A tenth of the harvest each year is to be taken to God’s centre (the temple) and used for a festival in His presence. The Levites and all who have no means of support, such as foreigners, orphans and widows, are to enjoy a share of the produce.
Every three years, the tithe is to be stored and used to feed those who are destitute. Providing for the poor is an important aspect of Israel’s economy.
Cancelling debts and freeing slaves
Once every seven years, all debts are to be cancelled. Ideally, there will be no poor people at all. If God provides and his people are generous, the causes of poverty will be removed. However, God is also a realist. He knows that there will always be those who are poor, and so he commands his people to be generous to them (15:11).
In the same way as debts are cancelled, so is slavery. A slave must be released after six years of service, unless he or she wishes to stay in the owner’s employment. These laws reflect the forgiveness and generosity which are at the heart of God. He will bless those who treat others in this way.
Celebrating the feasts
The rules for calculating and keeping the main festivals are repeated from the books of Exodus, Leviticus and Numbers: the Feast of Unleavened Bread (Passover), the Feast of Weeks and the Feast of Tabernacles.
Judges are to be appointed who will make decisions fairly, and not be influenced by favouritism or bribes.
It will be important to stamp out paganism, but there are to be no hysterical witch-hunts. If anyone is suspected of occult practice, he or she may only be found guilty after proper investigation and the evidence of more than one witness. Any difficult cases may be taken to the priests, whose decisions will be binding. To deny or ignore their ruling is a capital offence.
A king who is under the law
Moses anticipates that one day the Israelites will want a king. When this happens, they must choose a fellow Israelite who will himself be under God’s law. He mustn’t build up a large personal army or allow himself to be distracted by acquiring wives or wealth. The first thing he must do is sit down and write out his own copy of the law. This scroll is to be his constant companion. These rules about kingship are so appropriate to Solomon that many scholars have wondered whether they were added as a result of his reign. They would, in fact, apply to any oriental king, even long before Solomon’s time.
Taken from the Bible Guide
June 2013: Discovering Deuteronomy
Offerings for priests and Levites
Just as the king is to be regulated in the liberties and privileges of his office, so are the priests. The priests belong to the tribe of Levi. Their special work is to offer sacrifices and to teach God’s law.
Unlike the other tribes of Israel, the Levites have no area of the Promised Land to call their own. Instead, they have forty-eight cities in the territories of the other tribes, together with some pastureland for cattle or crops. They are set aside for God’s work and must depend on the other tribes for their food and drink. This comes from the offerings and sacrifices of the people, to which the priests have the right to a portion or share. So God himself is the inheritance of the Levites. They live by faith and blessing rather than land and livelihood.
The rights of a Levite are not restricted to his home town. If he moves to serve God in a sanctuary, he is to receive his share of food there, along with the other priests.
Warning against pagan practices
Moses issues another stern warning against paganism. This time he is quite specific about child sacrifice and all aspects of the occult. Israel is to be a no-go area for the black arts of witchcraft and spiritism. On the contrary, the whole nation is to live in the light of God’s word.
A prophet like Moses
One day God will raise up another prophet like Moses, who will stand between God and the people to reveal his truth. The apostle Peter will quote these words in his Pentecost sermon, showing that Jesus Christ fulfils this ancient promise (Acts 3:22). Stephen, in a brilliant speech to the Jewish Council, will make the same point (Acts 7:37).
Moses gives a simple test to tell if a prophet is genuine. If things turn out as a prophet has said, then his message was from the Lord. There is no need to take a prophet seriously if he might be an impostor. Time will tell. Jesus warns that many false prophets will appear towards the end of the age (Matthew 24:11).
Cities of refuge
Three cities are to be set aside as ‘cities of refuge’. Anyone who kills another person by accident can run to one of these centres for sanctuary. If Israel’s territory increases, then three more cities are to be set aside for this purpose. There is always to be one within easy reach, so that the next of kin doesn’t add to tragic accidents by murdering innocent people. If the death was intentional, then the murderer is to be handed over for trial and execution.
A person can only be convicted of a crime if there is evidence from more than one witness. Such witnesses are to be carefully cross-examined. A false witness is to be given whatever punishment he was trying to inflict on another. ‘Eye for eye, tooth for tooth’ is known as the ‘lex talionis’—the law by which a penalty is absolutely fair: no more and no less. Jesus quotes these words in the Sermon on the Mount. Instead of precise penalty or fair compensation, he teaches non-retaliation and generous forgiveness: giving grace rather than taking revenge (Matthew 5:38–42).
Going to war
There are special guidelines for going to war. The priests are to tell the soldiers not to be afraid, because God will be fighting for them. Anyone who is worried or scared can go home! Before an enemy city is attacked, its people are to be invited to surrender. If they do so, they are to be spared and taken as slaves. However, if the captured people have vile pagan practices, they are to be completely destroyed before they infect Israel. When laying siege to a city and destroying the surrounding woodland, the fruit trees are to be spared. They have offended no one and they produce food. The natural world is often the first victim of war.
Taken from the Bible Guide
July 2013: Discovering Deuteronomy
Dealing with bloodshed
Blood is always important. Blood is the essence of life—and life is God’s creation and gift. If someone is found murdered in open country and no one knows who did it, then the people in the nearest town are to make an atoning sacrifice. This doesn’t cover the guilt of the murderer, but it protects the innocent people nearby.
Marrying a captive woman
If a soldier is attracted to a woman who has been captured, he is to treat her with all respect. He may take her to his home, where she must shave her head, trim her nails and change her clothes. This reminds us of the ceremony for becoming a priest. She must be allowed a month to grieve for her loved ones and the passing of her old life. After this, the soldier may marry her. If he later changes his mind, he must set his wife free—not simply make her a slave. These guidelines have a respect for women which was unheard of in other cultures—is rare in war even today.
Justice for sons
A first-born son is to have special honour and a double share of his father’s property. This is his right by birth and does not depend on whether he is the favourite son. A delinquent son is to be presented to the elders of the town, publicly accused and sentenced to death by stoning. A father does not have power of life and death over his children. Such cases are to be referred to the civil authorities. If a criminal is executed by hanging, his body must be buried at nightfall. There is to be dignity, not savagery, in applying God’s law.
| Ours to reason ‘why?’These laws come to us from a different time and culture. They often seem primitive and out of date. To understand them, we need to look for their underlying purpose.
Behind every law is the desire to reflect and express God’s justice and generosity.
It may help to ask such questions as: Who will benefit from this law? ‘Whose interest is being protected?’ ‘Whose power is being restricted?’ and ‘What is this law trying to promote – or prevent?’
God in the detail
Here is a cluster of rules to encourage kindness and holiness. People are to respect one another’s possessions—returning stray animals or lost property. Some actions are forbidden because they are a confusion of God’s created order. For example, men and women must not wear each other’s clothes. A mother bird is not to be taken from her nest. There is to be no mixing of seeds, crops or animals—nor of the fabrics used in making clothes. All these are little practical details which together express a wholeness of heart and life.
Sex and marriage are also holy. A woman is to remain a virgin until she is married. If it turns out that she is not a virgin, then she is to be executed by stoning. Sex before or outside marriage carries the death penalty. Promiscuous behaviour is a confusion of God’s order. Being engaged (‘betrothed’) is just as binding as marriage. We see this in Joseph’s dilemma when Mary is found to be pregnant (Matthew 1:19). Those who commit adultery are to be put to death. There is no such thing as sex without responsibility. Rape is as serious as murder. A man who rapes a woman who is neither married nor engaged is to pay a fine to her father and marry her. Sex between parents and children, or between close relatives, is expressly forbidden.
Staying clear and keeping clean
Certain people are to be excluded from Israel’s assembly. There is a ban on men with damaged testicles, illegitimate children and foreign enemies. These laws prevent confusions and highlight consequences. God’s holiness extends to the whole of life, and there are simple guidelines for such normal functions as having wet dreams or going to the bathroom.
Finding the right balance
Some of these laws find a precise balance between severity and generosity. Divorce is allowed to resolve ruined marriages, but not to license promiscuity. Newly-weds are excused all other duties, so that they can establish their marriage. Taking security for a loan must not wreck another person’s business or deprive them of their only clothes. Some of the harvest is to be left in the fields and on the trees, so that the poor can find food. Israelites are never to forget what it is like to be helpless and in trouble—as they were themselves, when they were slaves in Egypt.
Legal punishments are to be administered with dignity, under proper supervision and within maximum limitations. They are penalties, not humiliations.
An ox is to be allowed to eat while it is working. This is a principle Paul applies to Christian ministers and missionaries (1 Corinthians 9:3–12). If possible, a widow is to be married to one of her husband’s brothers, and have a son to continue the dead man’s name. This is sometimes known as Levitate marriage. There is a public non-marriage ceremony if the brother-in-law refuses to do his duty! (See also Ruth 4:7.)
Taken from the Bible Guide
August 2013: Discovering Deuteronomy
Firstfruits and family roots
The Promised Land is God’s gift to Israel. At harvest time, the first basket of produce is to be taken to the priest and presented as a thank-offering to God. The person bringing the gift is to recite a brief history of Israel, from the time God called Abraham (‘a wandering Aramean’), to the present day. In this way, individual Israelites take their very own place in the story and life of God’s people.
Every third year, a tithe (10 per cent) of the harvest is to be given to the Levites and to the poor. Israel is to remember that obedience and blessing go together. Responsibility to God is fulfilled through practical care for the poor.
Blessings and curses
The altar on Mount Ebal
In the centre of Canaan there are two prominent hills—Mount Ebal and Mount Gerizim. Moses gives instructions that large stones are to be coated with plaster and inscribed with God’s law. The stones are to be set up on Mount Ebal, and sacrifices are to be offered on an altar there.
Curses for disobedience
Half the tribes (or perhaps their representatives) are to stand on Mount Gerizim, and half on Mount Ebal. Those on Mount Gerizim are to pronounce the blessings. They are all the tribes which have descended from Jacob’s wives, Leah and Rachel. Those on Mount Ebal are to pronounce curses. They are (apart from Reuben) the tribes which have descended from Jacob’s maidservants, Bilhah and Zilpah. The curses are for those who break God’s commands, by making idols, harming defenceless people or having forbidden sex.
Blessings for obedience
For those who obey the Lord fully, there are many wonderful blessings. God’s love will be experienced in the quiet enjoyment of everyday life—families, farms, shopping and housework, comings and goings. A basket is used for carrying produce, and is the symbol of harvest. A kneading trough is used for working dough—and is a symbol of daily bread. God will protect his people from their enemies, provide rain for their crops and promote their businesses. The fear and frenzy of fertility rites are not for Israel! All this is conditional on Israel’s faithful obedience to God’s commands.
Disobedience will trigger distress, disease, disaster, drought, darkness, destruction and despair. Moses outlines the tragedy that awaits a faithless Israel:
In hunger and thirst, in nakedness and dire poverty, you will serve the enemies the Lord sends against you (28:48).
Such curses were a standard feature of ancient treaties.
Israel renews the covenant
When God first made a covenant with Israel at Mount Sinai, it was broken immediately. Even as God was giving Moses the Ten Commandments, the Israelites were making and worshipping a golden calf-idol. Now the next generation is to renew its commitment to the living God.
‘Carefully follow the terms of this covenant’
Moses calls the whole community together. He reminds them of the great things God has done for them. He has rescued, guided and protected them—and supplied all their needs for forty years. They have experienced God’s power and discovered that His ways are true. The alternative is terrible. Disobedience provokes God’s anger and brings destruction.
Taken from the Bible Guide
September 2013: Discovering Deuteronomy
‘The Lord is your life’
Moses knows that one day Israel will abandon God’s way and be defeated and dispersed. But there is no place or situation from which God is unable to bring them back and restore them. Despair and desolation will be followed by delight. Now Moses delivers his final challenge—and gives the people full responsibility for their choice:
I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live, and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him (30:19–20).
Joshua to succeed Moses
Moses knows that he is about to die. He puts his affairs in order. He exhorts the Israelites to take possession of Canaan. He encourages Joshua to take on the leadership with the strength that God will give him.
The reading of the law
Moses writes out a copy of the law and commits it to the care of the priests. It is to be kept beside the ark of the covenant. He knows in his heart that the agreement will soon be broken. Nevertheless, he commands that it be read every seven years, during the week when Israel gathers for the Feast of Tabernacles.
Scholars have discovered many ancient agreements—known as ‘Suzerainty treaties’—which date from the Near East at this time. They list the terms and conditions, benefits and penalties which govern the relationships between masters and servants, lords and slaves. Such agreements were to be kept safely and read in public from time to time.
A song of judgment
Moses writes a song and recites it to the people so that they can learn it by heart. He begins with words of praise:
I will proclaim the name of the Lord.
Oh, praise the greatness of our God!
He is the Rock, his works are perfect,
and all his ways are just.
A faithful God who does no wrong,
upright and just is he (32:3–4).
The song goes on to describe Israel’s behaviour in the most unflattering terms. They are ‘a warped and crooked generation … a nation without sense’ (32:5, 28). But God has chosen them, loved them, and treated them with both severity and compassion.
Moses knows that betrayals, disasters and difficulties lie ahead for his people. The song is a means of lodging God’s truth in their hearts for generations to come.
God tells Moses that he is to die on Mount Nebo—a part of the Abarim Range in north-west Moab, overlooking Canaan. Moses is not to enter the Promised Land, because of what happened when he struck the rock at Meribah Kadesh. Moses and Aaron failed God that day, with their anger and lack of faith.
Moses blesses the tribes
Moses blesses each of the tribes in turn—as Jacob had done before his death. For each tribe, Moses has words of praise and encouragement. Some of his words to ‘Jeshurun’ (an old, poetic name for Israel) have provided comfort for every generation of believers:
The eternal God is your refuge,
and underneath are the everlasting arms (33:27).
The tribe of Simeon isn’t mentioned. It may have become part of the tribe of Judah.
The death of Moses
Moses climbs Mount Nebo and surveys the Promised Land. His prayer to see it is granted. He can die content that his mission is accomplished. Muslims identify Mount Nebo with Jebel Osha. Moses dies at the age of 120. In Egypt, such an age would be attributed to a person of great distinction. In the Bible, his epitaph is even finer: ‘Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face’ (34:10). Moses was the greatest leader Israel ever had. Despite his sense of inadequacy, he accepted God’s call to confront Pharaoh and head up the exodus. In a quiet, self-effacing way, he discerned God’s will and made it known to others. He encountered all kinds of difficulty and discouragement during the trek across the desert—but met every crisis with honest passion and unfailing prayer. His enduring achievement was that he received the revelation of God’s law, and made every effort to record it, teach it and establish it for future generations.
Taken from the Bible Guide