Second and Third Discourses

Deuteronomy - Chapters 12-34

Second Discourse - Deuteronomic Code

Deuteronomy 12:1-12, The appropriate place for worship

Deuteronomy 12:13-28, Regulations concerning sacrifices

Deuteronomy 12:29-13:18, Forbidden practices

Deuteronomy 14:1-29, Assorted regulations

Deuteronomy 15:1-23, Assorted regulations

Deuteronomy 16:1-17, The Feasts of Passover, Weeks, and Tabernacles

Deuteronomy 16:18-17:20, Assorted regulations

Deuteronomy 18:1-22, Levites and prophets

Deuteronomy 19:1-21, Crime and punishment

Deuteronomy 20:1-20, Rules of war

Deuteronomy 21:1-21, Interpersonal relationships

Deuteronomy 21:22-22:12, Assorted regulations

Deuteronomy 22:13-29, Regulations on marriage, adultery, and rape

Deuteronomy 23:1-25, Assorted regulations

Deuteronomy 24:1-22, Interpersonal relationships

Deuteronomy 25:1-19, Assorted regulations

Deuteronomy 26:1-19, Assorted regulations and summary

Deuteronomy 27:1-26, Writing the Law; Cursings

Deuteronomy 28:1-14, Potential blessings

Deuteronomy 28:15-46, Potential curses

Deuteronomy 28:47-68, Potential war and exile

Third Discourse

Deuteronomy 29:1-29, Moses reiterates the covenant

Deuteronomy 30:1-20, Life or death, blessing or curse: choose!

Deuteronomy 31:1-27, Moses writes down the Law and a song

Deuteronomy 31:28-32:18, The Song of Moses begins

Deuteronomy 32:19-47, Remainder of the Song of Moses

Deuteronomy 32:48-33:19, Moses begins to bless the tribes prior to his death

Deuteronomy 33:20-34:12, Moses concludes the blessings and dies

Deuteronomy 34:1-12, Epilogue

More of Deuteronomy

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Deuteronomy 12:1-12, The appropriate place for worship (04/05/23)

Quick! How many gods are there? If you said, "One," you should be aware that that is a relatively novel and unusual idea. Even today, only three of the five major religions are monotheistic, and smaller pantheistic religions and religions with pantheons (not the same thing) abound.

The children of Israel were, occasionally, monotheistic in the sense that they knew they should only worship one God, but only during the Exile did they become monotheistic in the sense that they believed there only was one God. Consequently, much of Moses' discourse is directed at the topic of not participating in pagan worship practices. Scholars suspect that some of the unexplained prohibitions, like not cooking a kid in its mother's milk (Exodus 23:19, Deuteronomy 14:21), are actually aimed against Canaanite cultic practices, just like burning the Asherahs and smashing the stone pillars. Sadly, neither Moses nor the prophets could persuade the Israelites to give up idolatry, and God finally had to step in and send them into exile in Babylon (2 Kings 23:27).

Deuteronomy 12:13-28, Regulations concerning sacrifices (04/06/23)

Moses is still saying everything three times. If he had given each instruction about sacrifices once, they would have been as follows:

Deuteronomy 12:29-13:18, Forbidden practices (04/07/23)

Fellow reader Vance and I were thinking about the "kill them all" instructions in Moses' second discourse (Deuteronomy 7:1-26), which may seem pretty harsh. We notice, however, that the instructions were aimed only at the specific nations occupying Canaan, who had some of the viler religious practices I've read about, e.g., routine child sacrifice, male and female cult prostitution, self-mutilation, and so on. The Bible mentions these things in passing, but much of this information is also based on archeology. I once went to a traveling exhibit of some mosaics, etc., - they did do beautiful mosaics - when I suddenly came upon a bunch of urns. They contained the remains of children who had been burned alive as sacrifices; one child was ten years old. Moses didn't tell the Israelites to destroy everyone who didn't believe as they did, only the Canaanites who followed these practices.

Today Moses repeats this ban and extends it Israelites who follow the Canaanite religions. For the most part God seems to be willing to let other peoples follow their own religion and to depend on us to take the Gospel to them. God does get angry about child sacrifice, however, no matter who's doing it, and also about apostasy among those of us who should know better.

Deuteronomy 14:1-29, Assorted regulations (04/10/23)

Moses is still summarizing the Law from earlier times. Scholars, or at least some scholars, suspect that prohibitions such as not shaving the front of your head in mourning (see Leviticus 19:27-28) or not boiling a kid in its mother's milk (see Exodus 23:19) are aimed at keeping the Israelites away from Canaanite worship practices. The laws of clean and unclean as they apply to food (see Leviticus 11), which we have studied before here, are a little more up in the air. The main proposals that I know about are (1) public health; note that you mostly can't eat predators, shellfish, or similar possible carriers of parasites or toxins; (2) obedience training; the rules are somewhat random, but the Israelites need to learn to do as God says; (3) God said so; and (4) we really have no clue. These rules were set aside by Jesus (Mark 7:19) and for Gentile converts to Christianity by the Council of Jerusalem (Acts 15). The rules on tithing (Matthew 23:23) and the rules on support of the clergy (Luke 10:7 and 1 Timothy 5:18) still stand.

Deuteronomy 15:1-23, Assorted regulations (04/11/23)

Charitable giving has a very long history among Jews and Christians, dating back to the time of Moses. In modern times, we have a fairly bright line between "lending" and "giving," but it appears to me that the line was fuzzier under Moses. An Israelite could lend money to a foreigner and collect interest on it. No interest could be collected on a loan to another Israelite, however, and if the debt ran into the seventh year, it had to be forgiven. Nor could the loan be refused if the person needed it. Meantime, generosity to the poor outside of loans was also required. Jesus was likely referring to vs. 11 when he said, "The poor you will always have with you" (Matthew 26:11).

Deuteronomy 16:1-17, The Feasts of Passover, Weeks, and Tabernacles (04/12/23)

Here in the United States we have one feast and several holidays that honor our past: Thanksgiving and Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, Independence Day, Veterans Day, and so on. The religious holidays of Easter and Christmas are also widely observed by Christians and non-Christians alike.

The Jews have three ancient feasts, and Moses reminds the Israelites about how and when to observe them. Probably the one best known outside of Judaism is Passover. I once asked a Jewish friend what day Passover was that year, and he said with a perfectly straight face, "The same day it is every year." It's not the fault of the Jews that the 14th of Nisan, formerly called Abib, comes on different days in the more common Gregorian calendar. Passover celebrates God's rescue of the Israelites from Egypt. The Feast of Weeks, also called Pentecost ("fiftieth"), is a harvest feast celebrated the day after counting 49 days from Passover. The Feast of Tabernacles, also called Booths or Sukkot, is celebrated four days after Yom Kippur, which comes in the fall. It's a second harvest festival, and it also remembers the Israelites' time in the desert, when they lived in tents. It's common for Jews to create some sort of temporary dwelling for the Feast of Booths. All adult men who lived within a reasonable distance had to come the central place of worship for these three feasts, which is why we see Jerusalem so crowded on Passover and Pentecost in the New Testament.

Reader Question about Pentecost, or the Feast of Weeks.

Deuteronomy 16:18-17:20, Assorted regulations (04/13/23)

Moses is setting forth laws for Israel; many of these laws will sound familiar to most of the people living in western civilization. If you have laws, you typically need judges, and they should be fair, impartial, and above suspicion when it comes to their personal behavior. "He said/she said" is a problem in all sorts of criminal and civil legal actions; Moses said that there must be two witnesses, not one. (Remember that at Jesus' trial before Caiaphas, they were having trouble getting any two witnesses to agree; Matthew 26:59-62). A government also needs an administration, in this case the king, that knows the law and executes it fairly. Moses also repeats the injunction against idol worship, which he throws in at every opportunity.

Deuteronomy 18:1-22, Levites and prophets (04/14/23)

Moses gives instructions about the support of the Levites, who as you recall were chosen as priests (the descendants of Aaron, Exodus 28:1) and temple workers (the rest of the tribe, Numbers 1:48-51). He gives a further warning against the worship practices of the Canaanites, particularly child sacrifice, divination, and necromancy. Finally, Moses explains how to tell a true prophet of the LORD from such diviners and other false prophets.

Deuteronomy 19:1-21, Crime and punishment (04/17/23)

An awful lot of things can lead up to the premature, violent death of a person, and the laws about what crime, if any, has been committed vary among jurisdictions. In New Mexico, we have first- and second-degree murder, vehicular homicide, depraved mind murder, voluntary and involuntary manslaughter, and probably others. The punishments often differ, and this is a matter for the police and the courts to decide, not the victim's family.

The idea that there are varying types of premature, violent death, and that some decisions need to be taken out of the hands of the family, goes way back, and that's what Moses is talking about today. Moses had set up courts, but not police, so the victim's family was responsible for punishing murderers. However, Moses has only two categories: first degree murder, and involuntary manslaughter. The cities of refuge are established so that the person who commits involuntary manslaughter can escape from the victim's family. If the person has committed first degree murder, however, the city of refuge provides no refuge, and the murderer will be handed over and put to death.

Deuteronomy 20:1-20, Rules of war (04/18/23)

A year or so ago I wrote a brief history of my father's unit in World War II, and in the process, I learned about the draft. Originally, all men aged 21 to 36 had to register, but this was extended to 18 to 45 when the U.S. entered the war. Eventually it was further extended to 18 to 65 (the Old Man's Draft). Some men were exempted from service, however, on the basis on marital or parental status, health, occupation, hardship, or conscientious objection. The idea that all potential warriors must be considered, but some are exempted from service, goes back to Moses.

If it makes you feel any better, the Israelites did not kill everybody who was under the ban. They just adopted their disgusting worship practices and whored after their gods.

Deuteronomy 21:1-21, Interpersonal relationships (04/19/23)

Do you remember Esau selling Jacob his birthright (Genesis 25)? What was the birthright, anyway? It doesn't seem to be defined in the Bible, but from context we conclude that it was a double share of the inheritance, and possibly family leadership. For example, if there were three sons, the inheritance would be divided into four portions, and the eldest son would get two of them. (If there were no sons, the daughters inherited the property, along with some rules about marrying within the tribe. I've said before, although possibly not here, that the primary purpose of marriage is to protect children and property. Read Numbers 36 if you don't believe me.)

Deuteronomy 21:22-22:12, Assorted regulations (04/20/23)

First-century Judea was under Roman occupation and subject to Roman law, but the Jews were such a stiff-necked bunch that the Romans had two choices: (1) kill them all, or (2) exempt them from some Roman laws that directly contradicted their faith and the Law of Moses. One such law concerned emperor worship, which was required throughout the Roman Empire. The Jews absolutely would not do it, and the Romans essentially said, "Fine, just don't tell anybody." Another exemption stems from today's reading. Normally criminals (mostly rebels or insurrectionists) were left on the cross until they died, which could take days. This served both as punishment and as a warning to other Roman subjects to watch their step. Under Jewish law, bodies could not remain on the cross overnight. Remember that when Joseph of Arimathea asked Pilate for permission to take Jesus' body, Pilate first made sure that he was already dead (Mark 15:44-45). Toward sundown the soldiers broke the legs of the other two men crucified with him so that they would die quickly (John 19:32). Both of these incidents are explained by Moses' instructions in Deuteronomy 21:22-23.

Deuteronomy 22:13-29, Regulations on marriage, adultery, and rape (04/21/23)

We read this passage on marriage, adultery, and rape not long ago in our study of weights, measures, and money. A couple of readers wrote, specifically about vss. 28-29. They were sympathetic to the young woman who is raped and then must marry her rapist with no possibility of divorce. John Wesley says, "If her father consented to it," which probably means that she also consented to it (see, for example, Genesis 57-59). Why would they consent?

A woman who had been raped, no longer a virgin, might have great difficulty in finding a husband. Now, you might think that she'd be better off to stay single and get a job, but this choice wasn't available to her. No husband means no children; no husband or children means no-one to support her after the death of her parents. She would essentially be a childless widow, and such women were in very dire straits in biblical times. So yes, we should certainly be sympathetic to the victimized woman, but we also have to realize that it was a complex situation. Moses does the best he can for her, as he does for the woman raped in the countryside whose rapist is not caught.

Deuteronomy 23:1-25, Assorted regulations (04/24/23)

I mainly want to focus on vss. 1-4. Whom does God love? In the time of Moses, God and Moses were still trying to get the Israelites monotheistic and reasonably aligned with God's purpose of saving the world, so many of the rules are very strict, like the ones in vss. 1-4. Some (maybe all) of the Canaanite religions were big into self-mutilation. I don't know that castration was involved, but it's still a form of mutilation. The Moabites and Ammonites had disgusting gods. Do these rules apply today?

Moses lived roughly 3000 years ago, which is about 90 generations, so let's give up the rules about illegitimate children, Ammonites, and Moabites. If you read Acts 8:27-39, you'll see that the Ethiopian eunuch was a believer and was familiar with the scripture. When he asks, "Here is some water. What is to keep me from being baptized?" that's a really loaded question. "Moses says I can't come in. What does this guy Jesus say?" Jesus says he came to save the whole world. I suggest that we should welcome whoever comes into our churches or synagogues.

Many of the other rules are obsolete just because times have changed. For example, most of us now have indoor plumbing, slavery is outlawed, and I think the temple prostitutes are out of business.

Deuteronomy 24:1-22, Interpersonal relationships (04/25/23)

Moses repeats some of the laws from earlier in Deuteronomy and also from Exodus and Leviticus. Remember how Ruth went out to glean in the fields behind the reapers so that she and Naomi would have something to eat (Ruth 2:2)? She could do this because of what Moses said in vs. 19-22, which repeats what he said in Leviticus 19:9-10. Remember the Parable of the Laborers in the Vineyard (Matthew 20:1-16)? Moses says in vss. 14-15 that wages must be paid daily, repeating what he said in Leviticus 19:13. Moses also adds some new material that you're already familiar with because of later events. When the Pharisees ask Jesus about divorce in Mark 10:2-9, he asks them, "What did Moses command you?" They respond with the rule in Deuteronomy 24:1. We should never make the mistake of reading the New Testament as if it appeared out of nowhere.

Homework assignment: Get out your paper Bible with cross-references (or go to the NET Bible), and see what other rules in today's reading repeat or point to other passages.

Deuteronomy 25:1-19, Assorted regulations (04/26/23)

In this section of his second discourse, Moses continues to summarize old laws and add some new ones. The requirement that a man must marry his childless brother's widow seems to be new here as a law, but the custom is very old, dating at least back to the time of Jacob (Genesis 38:6-8). Fair weights and measures were also an old requirement (Leviticus 19:35-36). The forty-lash limit is apparently new here. You've heard of it before, however, because Paul writes to the church at Corinth that he received "forty lashes less one" on five occasions (2 Corinthians 11:24). The idea seems to have been that forty were allowed, but only thirty-nine were administered, in case of a miscount.
Reader Comment on Deuteronomy 25:1-3: So a guy who has just received 35 lashes, face down in the dirt, in a public square with all the gang watching, pops up and says, "Well, I'm not humiliated by that at all!" I love Deuteronomy.

Response: Ha! I was sort of thinking the same thing.

Deuteronomy 26:1-19, Assorted regulations and summary (04/27/23)

Moses is beginning to wind up his second discourse. He reminds the Israelites that God took them out of slavery in Egypt and is giving them the land promised to their ancestors. He makes a direct connection between the required tithe and gratitude for what God has already given. Finally, he reminds them again to obey God's laws.

Deuteronomy 27:1-26, Writing the Law; Cursings (04/28/23)

Moses wants to make sure the Israelites don't forget what he's telling them, so he gives instructions for recording them in writing. He calls down God's curse on those who break specific laws, and all the people say, "Amen." "Amen" means "So be it" or "Right on," depending on how old you are.

Deuteronomy 28:1-14, Potential blessings (05/01/23)

Moses tells the people what blessings they can expect if they diligently listen to the voice of the LORD and if they obey the commandments of the LORD. Listen. Obey. Simple, right?

Deuteronomy 28:15-46, Potential curses (05/02/23)

Moses has set out the blessings to be inherited by those who obey God. What if we choose not to obey? Moses has an answer for that, too, and it isn't pretty. "If you will not obey the voice of the LORD your God" a whole lot of really bad things will happen to you, "because you did not obey the voice of the LORD your God." The evil of our collective deeds is the root cause of most of the world's troubles. If you don't believe Moses, just read the newspaper.

Deuteronomy 28:47-68, Potential war and exile (05/03/23)

Moses finishes his second discourse with an especially grim warning against the hazards of turning away from God: war, famine, cannibalism, disease, exile, forced conversion, despair, and death.

Deuteronomy 29:1-29, Moses reiterates the covenant (05/04/23)

A covenant is similar to a contract, in that it's an enforceable agreement between two parties. The covenants God makes with his people are agreements between unequal parties. Moses begins his third discourse by reminding the Israelites that God has kept his part of the covenant with their ancestors, but they haven't been as good about keeping theirs. He warns them that if they abandon the covenant by worshiping other gods in the future, there will be repercussions.

Yesterday I finished the study plan for our next topic, and - spoiler alert! - vs. 29 is closely related to it: "The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law." We don't know everything that's going on in God's mind, but we do know what God expects of us.

Deuteronomy 30:1-20, Life or death, blessing or curse: choose! (05/05/23)

Moses says, "For this commandment that I command you today is not too hard for you." (I'm always a bit puzzled by the folks who complain about all the "thou shalt nots" in the Bible. What part of "Don't murder ... Don't steal" do they have a problem with?) Moses, like John Wesley later, says that it's never too late to turn back to God, and God will mercifully receive you. But you do have to choose, so choose life!

Deuteronomy 31:1-27, Moses writes down the Law and a song (05/08/23)

Do you have a job at your church? If so, what's your succession plan? Who are you training to take over when you are out of town, or sick, or gone? Does everything just pause like a video game until you get back? You know, someday you won't be coming back.

Moses has been training Joshua since they were at Mt. Sinai (Exodus 14), and now God tells Moses that it's time for Joshua to take over the leadership role. He's been training the priests and Levites for just about as long (Exodus 19), and now it's time for them to take over the role of preserving and promulgating the Law.

By the way, if you don't have a job at your church, call the office. Your church probably has more things that need to be done than volunteers to do them. Or go over and look around. You'll see something that you can do and nobody else can.

Deuteronomy 31:28-32:18, The Song of Moses begins (05/09/23)

When I was a kid, I had a great Sunday school teacher for about ten years, Mrs. Farmer. She gave prizes for memorizing Bible verses, so as you can imagine, I memorized quite a few Bible verses. Do I remember any of them? Maybe two or three. Even for those, I only remember the chapter and verse number for one, and that one, John 3:16, probably doesn't count as being remembered from my youth. On the other hand, I remember the songs she taught us, not to mention the words to quite a few advertising jingles and songs I heard on the radio.

Moses suspects that the Israelites aren't going to remember everything he's been teaching them, so at the end of his final discourse, he teaches them a song.

Deuteronomy 32:19-47, Remainder of the Song of Moses (05/10/23)

I think the Song of Moses might have to be classified as a protest song, with God as the one who is protesting. If you grow up, say, Aztec, and you worship idols, God isn't going to be happy, but you won't be the focus of God's anger. If you grow up Jewish or Christian and you start worshiping idols, God's position is that you should have known better! Apostasy and idolatry on the part of God's own people is the root cause of nearly all of the divine anger in the Old Testament. Note the exasperated sarcasm in vss. 37 and 38:
Then the LORD will ask his people, 'Where are those mighty gods you trusted? You fed them the fat of your sacrifices and offered them wine to drink.

Let them come and help you now; let them run to your rescue.
Also remember vs. 31, "Their enemies know that their own gods are weak, not mighty like Israel's God." We're going to see that on Monday.

Deuteronomy 32:48-33:19, Moses begins to bless the tribes prior to his death (05/11/23)

It seems like hard luck for Moses that after leading the Israelites for forty years in the desert, he doesn't get to enter the promised land. God refers back to an incident in Numbers 20, when God told Moses and Aaron to speak to the rock (presumably in the name of God) and have it bring forth water. Instead, they say, "Shall we bring water for you out of this rock?" and strike the rock. They didn't follow instructions, and they took the credit for themselves.

But even after all the trouble they've given him, Moses blesses the people before he dies, tribe by tribe. Today we read the blessings on Reuben, Judah, Levi, Benjamin, Joseph, Zebulun, and Issachar.

Deuteronomy 33:20-34:12, Moses concludes the blessings and dies (05/12/23)

Moses blessed the tribes of Gad, Dan, Naphtali, Asher; reminded the people of the greatness of God; and blessed the people as a whole.

Deuteronomy 34:1-12, Epilogue (2007)

How would you feel if someone described you as "meek"? You probably wouldn't be too happy about it, because most of us think "meek" means submissive or easily imposed on. An older and better definition is patient, humble, and gentle. In fact, only two people in the Bible are described as meek. They are Moses (Num. 12:3) and Jesus (Mat. 11:29, 21:5). Were they submissive or easily imposed on? No. So maybe we had better revise our understanding. Imagine this picture: A bull walks into a china shop. What happens? Now imagine this: He doesn't break anything. That's meek! Meekness is controlled power, not lack of power.

Moses up the mountain and viewed the promised land, and then he died. There has never been a prophet in Israel like Moses; the LORD spoke with him face-to-face.

Whew! Moses and the children of Israel made it through the desert to the border of the promised land, and we made it through Deuteronomy!

More of Deuteronomy
Deuteronomy - Chapters 1-11

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