Deuteronomy: A Covenant of History

Well, it has taken us a while, but we have reached the final stretch. This series began some 17 months ago back in November 2017 and has extended over 30 posts. It serves us well as we begin one of the final entries to reflect on the fact that Deuteronomy, as a book, serves as a narrative vehicle covering the intentions that God had for his people Israel.

We read it as part of a collection; however, there are parts of Deuteronomy that indicate that it was meant to stand apart and alone, in its retelling of events found in the books of Exodus and Numbers, to its recognition of certain elements found in Leviticus, the author(s) demonstrates his knowledge and the implied knowledge of his readers to that fact. This means that Deuteronomy, while dependent on those other texts, was essentially meant to stand alone. But in the providence of God’s intentions we have it and its companion texts to read and consider. And while this will be the end in this series, it serves us well to look at those other texts as well and to consider them in light of what was gleaned here. But enough reflecting…

Scripture and Summary

Deuteronomy 31:1-8

The focus of the text shifts once again to narrative: namely the narrative regarding the shifting of authority for the people of Israel from Moses to Joshua. Israel is on the cusp of a transition from wanderers to a geographically established people. The end of their punishment for infidelity was in sight and the people are given two related yet different admonishments: “do not fear” and “YHWH is with you”, which are something of a stock formula intended for the encouragement of the immediate hearers and future readers.(1)

A problem that many will see here is with the fact that Moses’ age is listed as 120 years. If this age is literal, then Moses had lived for a considerable time. However, this could be a stock term intended for counting generations, with a generation being generally defined as a 40 year period.(2) If this is the case, then Moses is saying that he has seen 3 generations of Hebrews: his generation, the generation of the exodus, and the generation of the wandering. Considering this may help to resolve certain issues regarding dating the events and synchronization with history.

Deuteronomy 31:9-13

Many see this passage as a testimony of authorship regarding the text of Deuteronomy or the Pentateuch in general.(3) Others see this section of the text as a liturgical preface given what is said here.(4)

The question of v9 should be, what is “this law” that Moses is said to have written? The answer seems to be whatever was given to the Levites to bear in the ark of the covenant. Therefore it cannot be Deuteronomy itself, or the Pentateuch as a whole. The “law” in question has an earlier reference in the text in chapter 17. The “law” being referred to would then the legal codes recorded in the book’s narrative.

The purpose of the recording of the law is so that, at the Feast of Booths, when the people come together to remember their time wandering and their establishment as a permanent people that they, “…may hear and learn to fear the Lord your God, as long as you live in the land that you are going over the Jordan to possess.(v13).”

Deuteronomy 31:14-23

This section is focused on narrating the transfer of authority from Moses to Joshua by Yahweh himself (vv14-15, 23) as well as warnings about the future of Israel after their generation has passed (vv16-18), and instructions about regarding the composition of a memorial song that Moses is to teach the children of Israel (vv19-22).

It should be stressed here that this transfer of leadership occurs at the behest of Yahweh, and in the presence of Yahweh, by Yahweh. Moses takes an ancillary role as Yahweh makes the change; Moses doesn’t do this of his own authority, because this occurs in a place which only Moses could enter.(5)

As the exchange takes place, Moses is told by Yahweh of what will occur after his death, including the rebellion of the people against the Covenant-making God, and that the people will suffer for their rebellion. This apostasy will invoke the curses of the covenant and the people will be taken by surprise for their adulterous ways. It’s in this that the sovereignty of God is displayed in the reading or hearing of such a prediction that even man’s depravity is part of God’s purposes to bring about his ends and Kingdom.(6)

Deuteronomy 31:24-29

In this section, the narrative scope of the history of the Torah and its covenant finds closure. Moses completes his writing of the law and has a copy placed in the ark of the covenant. The priests are charged to read the law every seven years. Essentially this section takes the reader back to the beginning, for it is here that the setting for the book is established.

Application

All things come to an end.

The time of wandering comes to an end. The of Moses’ leadership comes to an end. But just because things come to an end, does not mean that other things cannot begin. What matters isn’t what ends but for what begins.

This post is an end, but it begins something new.

The warnings that we find in this passage are telling. When an authority, or perceived authority exits, what do we do? The tendency is to engage in rebellion, to dredge up grudges, to panic, or even to do nothing.

What we should take away form this passage is that God, in making his covenant, is still in control. God has not disappeared from his throne. God still rules.

Absence, or perceived absence, is not an excuse for slackness. We need to continue in faithfulness, “not by the way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but as bondservants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, rendering service with a good will as to the Lord and not to man, knowing that whatever good anyone does, this he will receive back from the Lord…”(7)

Notes

1. Brueggemann. p. 271

2. Rushdoony. p. 484

3. Ibid.

4. Brueggemann. p. 272

5. Ibid. p.273

6. Rushdoony. p.489

7.Ephesians 6:6-8

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