As we enter into this third section of our continuing study of the book of Deuteronomy, we enter into a section that serves as the bookend for the covenant that it has revealed. As the first chapters established the basics of the covenant found in the Decalogue, upon which the main body expands and expounds, the closing section reveals the reciprocal nature of the agreement. Those with whom this covenant was made couldn’t just do as they desired, because they were in a relationship. And while this relationship was initiated unconditionally—Israel had done nothing in and of itself to merit, much less attract the attention of God—in order to continue to reap the benefits, there were conditions under which the relationship was to continue, as spelled out in the Law, the question then remained: what would happen if the relationship was broken?
Scripture and Summary
This section seems to reveal an editorial hand as it shifts context.(1) The instructions related here reveal that there is to be a measure of revisiting made from time to time, as the instructions for displaying the law are given. Moreover, any indifference and neglect of these markers would reveal the adherence to the covenant, due to its need to be revisted, repaired, and renewed.(2) The installation of these markers were to occur as soon as possible and were to mark the edges of the territory, thereby notifying what was expected of any who would enter into the territory governed by them.
The people of Israel are instructed to gather in a valley, bounded by two mountains, once the land is secured and reiterate the covenant that they have made with Yahweh. Half of the tribes stand on one mountain and proclaim the blessings, and the other half stand on the other mountain and proclaim its curses.
The first pronouncement is one of curses. It is broken down into sections regarding idolatry, sexual morality, justice and exploitation, interpersonal violence, and finally a section of the law itself.(3) By affirming theses curses with the communal agreement, the “Amen”, the people accepting a new status, and affirming themselves as being in a unique relationship with Yahweh.(4) Roughly, this could be analogue to a pledge of allegiance.
In this section, recognition of the previous section, and a dedication to Yahweh’s purposes reaps benefits that are national, material, and—above all—conditional.(5) Moreover, in this Yahweh is active, establishing and directing so that the positive choices in affirming the covenant reap the blessing while negative reap the curses.(6) Further, in obedience both freedom and security of the abound due to God’s sovereignty and his love for those who do his will.(7)
Disobedience has outcomes which are directly converse to obedience. Just as the blessings of the covenant are conditional to the covenant, so are the curses and are, again, demonstrative of God’s sovereignty over all things.(8) Just as obedience brings freedom and security, disobedience will bring slavery and oppression.
In looking at this passage, an interesting application should jump out at us when it comes to the law. While the Decalogue was inscribed on tablets of stone, thereby demonstrating their permanence as the standard by which God judges all men, the laws of Israel, the laws of the covenant were not to be given such a consideration. The laws, unlike many other nations, were to be inscribed on a non-permanent surface, thereby testifying to their temporality.
Probably the best example of ancient law codes were found in the discovery of the Code of Hammurabi. The fact that such laws were often inscribed in stone meant that there was no way of resisting or revising the law, whereas Israel, with its laws being, not inscribed in stone, by written upon a smooth plaster surface meant that those laws would have to be revisited and reexamined and, if necessary, adjusted to be brought inside a better understanding of the permanent Decalogue.
This is probably why there is no call in the early church to adhere to either the ceremonial laws—fulfilled in Christ—nor appeals made to the civil law, outside of their being a representative of the demands of God’s justice and holiness.
However the accompanying blessings of obedience and the curse of disobedience still remains. As the apostle says, God is not mocked.
- Walter Brueggemann. Abingdon Old Testament Commentary Series: Deuteronomy. Abingdon Press. Nashville, TN. 2001. p. 251
- Rousas J. Rushdoony. Commentaries on the Pentateuch: Deuteronomy. Chalcedon Publishing. Valencia, CA. 2008. p. 452
- Ibid. p. 456
- Brueggemann. p. 252
- Rushdoony. p. 460-1
- Brueggemann. p. 256
- Rushdoony. p. 461-2
- Brueggemann. p. 256