Part 2 of the Deuteronomy overview with commentary featuring chapters 8-15.
Deuteronomy Chapter 8:
Moses warns them to remember and obey the commands. If they obey they will multiply and subdue the land. God led them through the wilderness humbling them and testing them. He humbled them by letting them get hungry and then feeding them with manna from heaven. The lesson is that “man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God”. For the whole forty years their clothes and shoes did not wear out nor did their feet blister. God disciplines them just as a parent disciplines a child, and it was for their own good. Therefore they should obey the commands of God by walking in his ways and fearing him. He is bringing them into a land flowing with milk and honey, with wheat and barley, grapevines, fig trees, pomegranates, and olive oil. Not only is the food plentiful but there is plenty of mineral material like iron in the stones and copper in the hills.
Moses warns them to not let the blessings get to their heads so that they become proud and forget God. It was God that delivered them from Egypt. He led them through the terrifying wilderness with various dangerous creatures and the harsh dry climate. God gave them water from the rock and fed them with manna in the wilderness, all to humble and test them for their own good, so they would never say, “I have achieved this wealth with my own strength and energy.” God is the one that makes them rich in order to fulfill the promise of their covenant. However, if they ever forget God and follow false gods, they will be destroyed and driven out just like the Canaanites who are defeated by them.
Deuteronomy Chapter 9:
Moses comforted the Israelites concerning the Anakites. The Anakites were giants but the Israelites had nothing to fear because God was going ahead of them to disrupt the lives of the Anakites, making them easy to defeat. Moses warns them not to think their victories are because of their own righteousness. Instead, God is using the Israelites to punish the wickedness of the Canaanite nations and to keep his promise to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Their righteousness is not responsible for their victory, in fact, they tested God in the wilderness with their sin multiple times, because they are stubborn. Moses recounts the time he was on Mount Sinai (or Horeb), for 40 days and nights with no food or water receiving God’s instructions. This is when God wrote his 10 commandments on the two stone tablets. However, the meeting was disrupted because of their rebellion. They started worshipping a golden calf even though God already said not to have any other gods or make idols. Moses broke the tablets in disgust for the Israelite’s sins and interceded for them so that God would show mercy and he did. Moses burned up the golden calf and broke it down into dust. God wanted to destroy them, but he didn’t because he is faithful to his covenant and his promise to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
Moses reminds them of their sins at Taberah, Massah, and Kibroth-hattaavah. As well as Kadesh-barnea, when they were disheartened by the report of the 10 scouts and complained against God for making them face giants rather than trusting him to help them. God again wanted to destroy them but Moses interceded. Moses reminded God of his covenant promise and asked God to think of his reputation amongst the nations. The Egyptians and other nations make say, “the God of Israel couldn’t fulfill his promise so he destroyed them in the wilderness”, but that is not true so God must spare them so that the world will know how faithful he is.
Deuteronomy Chapter 10:
Moses continues recounting when the Israelites first broke the covenant. After Moses destroyed the tablets God had him come up the mountain again for another 40 days and he made two new tablets for the 10 commandments. In addition, Moses finished receiving instructions on building the Ark and the Tabernacle, and Moses put the tablets in the Ark.
Moses recounts the rest of the journey from Kadesh-barnea:
The Israelites travel to Jaakan and then Moserah, then Aaron died on Mount Hor and Eleazar took over as a high priest. Then they journeyed to Gudgodah, and from there to Jotbathah. At that time, God set apart the whole tribe of Levi to help the priest by carrying carry the Ark and sacred objects of the Tabernacle, as well as the building components of the Tabernacle. In addition, the Levites would mediate between the rest of Israel and the priesthood. This is why the Levites have no land allotment, God takes care of them directly with tithes as they serve in his ministry. Moses reminds them of how he spent his second time on Mt. Sinai for 40 days, pleading with God to spare the Israelites and God showed them mercy and promised to go with them so that they could take the land of Canaan.
Moses reminds them to commit to loving and obeying God by keeping his commands. He points out that the God of gods, and Lord of lords who owns everything in the heavens and the earth, chose them as his people to express his love, above all other nations. Therefore the Israelites must “circumcise their hard hearts” and return his love to him. He is a mighty and just God and favors no one, nor takes bribes. He loves the widows, orphans, and foreigners living among them and will provide them with food and clothing. They must remember that they were foreigners in Egypt and love the foreigners living among them. They must fear and worship their God with all their heart, he alone is their God and there is no one else like him. When their ancestors (Jacob and co.) left Canaan for Egypt there were only 70 altogether, but now they are as numerous as the stars.
Deuteronomy Chapter 11:
Moses makes a call of dedication to God’s commands to those who are old enough to remember what God did for them in Egypt, with the 10 plagues. As well as the signs in the wilderness like when he swallowed up Dathan and Abiram (two of the sons of Eliab), into the ground. The mighty deeds they have witnessed should be enough or them to fear God and keep His commands so that they will be blessed and favored in conquering and keeping the land God has enriched for them. This new land is better than in Egypt. In Egypt when they sowed they had to use irrigation ditches to trap water. On the other hand, Canaan is a land of hills and valleys that will soak up the rain.
If they keep the commands they will get rain at all the right times, in the spring and fall. They will successfully be able to grow grain, new wine, and olive oil. In addition, they will have lush pasturelands for their livestock. However, if they become prideful and start worshipping other gods, breaking the commands, God will shut up the sky, the ground will fail to grow anything, and they will die. They must commit themselves fully to this covenant. He says to store God’s words in their heart, tie them around their right hands and foreheads (metaphorically), and teach them to all future generations. They should talk about God’s commands at home, when traveling, in the morning, and at night, and write them on doorposts and city gates. If they do so their children will live long prosperous lives for multiple generations.
Keeping the commands will allow for the blessing, which guarantees that they will be successful at conquering the land. Their frontiers will stretch from the wilderness in the south to Lebanon in the north, and from the Euphrates River in the east, to the Mediterranean Sea in the west. No one will be able to stop them. This is a choice between blessing and cursing. The blessing comes from obeying the commands, and the curse comes from rejecting them. There are two mountains west of the Jordan River, near the town of Gilgal, not far from the oaks of Moreh. These two mountains are Gerizim and Ebal, Moses will pronounce the blessing on Gerizim and the curse on Ebal. When they take the land they must remember the blessing and the curse.
Deuteronomy Chapter 12:
Moses gives instructions on sacrifices and worship. When they take over the land they must destroy all altars and places of worship to the false gods of the Canaanite nations, as well as images that represent their gods. This also includes natural places, like mountain tops, certain hills, or special trees. Israel must not worship God like the pagans worship their gods. God will assign a place for them to worship him from among the tribal allotments once they are settled in the land. There will be a designated place to bring offerings, tithes, firstborn animals, etc. At this place, the people will eat their offerings in God’s presence. Once they have conquered the land fully and are at peace, God will change things and give them a new pattern of worship. They will no longer worship God the way they did in the wilderness, doing it however they want. There will eventually be a designated place for them to bring their tithes and offerings and eat in his presence with their families. Of course, they must remember to include the Levites, since they have no land allotment.
While they are no longer allowed to burn offerings just anywhere only at the designated space for the Tabernacle, they may slaughter, cook, and eat their livestock as meals wherever they please, this applies to both clean and unclean people. However, they must remember to drain the blood. They must not eat their tithes and offerings anywhere they want not even in their hometowns. These sacred gifts are dedicated to God and must be eaten in his presence with their families, servants, and the Levites living in their towns with them. They must always remember the Levites. Moses reiterates that they can eat meat wherever they want as long as it is not tithes or offerings, and they must our the blood on the ground. The blood of gifts must be poured on the altar while the fat burns on the altar. Burnt offerings require that the meat and blood go on the altar. If they keep these commands God will bless them. In addition, when they get into this new land, not only should they destroy all traces of the Canaanite religion, but they must not inquire about it or learn their practices. These Canaanites did detestable things like sacrifice their children. No one should add or subtract from God’s commands.
Deuteronomy Chapter 13:
Moses gives another warning about idolatry. He says if a prophet has a vision or dream and predicted a sign or miracle and then suggests that they all worship other gods, then that person is a false prophet. This is a test to see if they are really faithful to their covenant. They are to follow only YHWH their God and put that false prophet to death. If a beloved friend, family member, or anyone they personally cherish tries to seduce them into worshipping a false god, they must resist, reject and report that person. That person is to be put to death for spreading idolatry. That person must be stoned first by the close family member that accused them and then everyone else. If they hear a report that some people in a city have a cult among them spreading idolatry, then there must be an investigation. If that city is guilting of idolatry then its inhabitants and livestock are to be put to death, and all of its spoils must be burned in a pile within the city. That place will forever be damned and must not be rebuilt. Nothing from that town can be preserved, it is considered an offering to God for the town’s sins. Once destroyed, God’s wrath will turn away and the nation will be purified and blessed again. God’s mercy is only available if people are submitted to his word by keeping all of the commands.
Deuteronomy Chapter 14:
Moses tells them not to mourn as pagans do by shaving above their foreheads or cutting themselves. God has set them apart as holy so they must represent him properly.
Moses reminds them of what animals are clean vs unclean (kosher food laws). They can eat any animal that has completely split hooves and chews the cud, but if the animal doesn’t have both, it may not be eaten. Examples include oxen, sheep, goats, deer, gazelles, addaxes, and antelopes. An example of what they can’t eat is a pig, it has split hooves but it doesn’t chew the cud. Meanwhile, camel, hares, and hyraxes (badgers) all eat cud but don’t have split hooves. They are forbidden from eating and even touching the carcasses of these animals. When it comes to sea creatures, they can only eat animals that have both fins and scales. Flying creatures are fine if they are herbivores, so that would exclude animals like kites, falcons, buzzards, ravens, eagles, owls, seagulls, vultures, herons, storks, hawks, and bats. Winged bugs are unclean unless they have joint legs and jump. The Israelites are not allowed to eat anything that died naturally, foreigners and strangers may eat it but the Israelites are set apart as holy.
Moses then discusses tithing. Every year the Israelites must give 10% of their harvest (grain, wine, olive oil) and bring the firstborns of their livestock and eat it in God’s presence before the Tabernacle. If they live too far away they can sell their tithe assets and use the money to buy food from the Levites and eat that in God’s presence. He reminds them not to neglect the Levites from their town since they do not have a land allotment. Every three years there were to bring a tithe into the nearest town to be stored for the Levites, foreigners, widows, and orphans. God will bless them for their generosity.
Comment: The tithe in this chapter is not the same as the tithe in Leviticus 27:30-34 and Numbers 18:20-32. Leviticus 27:30-34 was the first tithe, which pays the Levites with yield from the land since they don’t have a land allotment (Numbers 18:20-21). The non-priest Levites in turn will give 10% of the tithe they got to the priest (Numbers 18:25-32). The tithe in Deuteronomy 14:22-27 is a second tithe that involves the Israelites bringing animals to the Tabernacle and eating them in God’s presence. If a person lives too far away they can sell their livestock and buy food from the Levites, at the Tabernacle, in order to eat in God’s presence (Deuteronomy 14:22-27, Deuteronomy 26:1-4). This tithe is more spiritual in nature than the first which was more of a compensation for the Levites. A third tithe for the storehouses was given every three years, to take care of the Levites, as well as the poor foreigners, widows, orphans, etc (Deuteronomy 14:28-29, Deuteronomy 26:12-15). Note: firstborn males are bundled with the tithes but are distinct since the firstborn was defined by its mother (Num18:15). A person could have any number of firstborns throughout the year but the tithes were a 10% portion of everything.
Deuteronomy Chapter 15:
Moses established some more rules on the shmita, that is the yearly sabbath. Every seven years every creditor must cancel the debts of their Israelite debtors. They are allowed to continue collecting debts for Gentiles, but not their fellow Israelites. When they do this God will bless the land and keep them from impoverishment as a nation. If they keep his commands, he will make it so that they only lend money to their neighbors and they will never borrow or be indebted. If someone does fall on hard times, they should all be generous towards the poor. They are not to be mean-spirited and refuse someone a loan because the shmita is near. Otherwise, they will be guilty of sin for their stinginess. There will always be poor among them, so they must give generously and not grudgingly and God will bless them for it.
If a Hebrew slave (male or female) is sold to an Israelite they can only work for six years. In the seventh year, they must be free and must be given free gifts as payment. The Israelites must remember that they were slaves in Egypt and should treat their own slaves better than the Egyptians treated them. However, a servant can choose to stay indebted for life because they love the family, and in that case, the creditor can push an awl through their ear lobe (an earring) and make them permanent servants. The Israelites must not consider it a hardship to release a slave because they have done work worth double that of a hired worker.
Moses also reminds them to set aside the firstborn of all of their livestock for God. These firstborn animals must not be put to work nor be used for commodities like wool. The firstborn male animals should be eaten along in God’s presence at the Tabernacle. Of course, set apart firstborns must not have any defects like lameness or blindness. Those can be eaten by their families for food as long as they don’t consume the blood.
Comment: Ex 21:2-3 is the first time we see the rule of releasing Hebrew slaves after six years. However, Ex 21:7 says that the female servants will not be released as the men are after six years. This seems to imply that only men are set free and given payment. However, Deut 15:12-18 mentions that male and female slaves are to be released after six years and given payment. In addition, Jeremiah 34:8-21 makes it clear that God told them to set all Hebrew slaves both male and female free after six years, so Hebrew slave women are freed at the end of six years by default just like the men. Is this a contradiction? The solution to this conflict is that Exodus 21:1-11 focuses on marriage rules for slaves so this really says that slave women are treated differently in the case of marriage. That is why verses 3-6 talk about a male slave having to choose between freedom and marriage. In Ex 21:8 if the owner doesn’t like a slave woman he cannot sell her to a foreigner or anyone else, she must be bought back by her father. Slave women were not liable to be sold for theft like men (Ex 22:3) but were usually sold by their parents, which is why she goes back to her father, this is based on the social protection for women in that society. Deuteronomy 15 and Jeremiah 34 are saying that if a slave wife is unmarried after six years then she would be free like the men. Meanwhile, Exodus 21 explains that if a slave woman marries the owner or his son, then she becomes a non-slave wife instantly. If she divorces a free husband, then she maintains her freedom even though she started as a slave (Ex 21:11).
If a slave man leaves his slave wife, then she stays with her master until the 6-year term of her contract is up and goes back to her father, since that is the default for unmarried slaves. The males on the other hand have to choose between freedom and staying permanently when married to a slave woman given to them by the master (Ex 21:4-6). A man could meet a slave woman whose term is about to end and then she will be free first, then he can marry her and work until his contract ends and take her with him. The wife only has to be left behind if her contract is not ended. Of course, it is possible the debtor can let her go early which would remove the choice for the male. The 6-year term limit was a maximum, not a requirement since debts can be paid off or canceled early. If these rules weren’t in place men could trade their wives in for another every six years, and women could rack up a lot of debt and then skip out on it by simply marrying anyone with a short time left on his term.