Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Joshua 8:30–35

Joshua 8:30–35: The Covenant Renewed at Mount Ebal

Synopsis

At this point, the Israelites have conquered Jericho, and have also conquered Ai. They are now taking a break, to renew their covenant with the LORD, as Moses commanded them. Joshua builds an altar on Mount Ebal, and they sacrifice burnt offerings and fellowship offerings there. Joshua then copies all of the law, handed down to Moses, onto stones. All of the Israelites are facing Joshua as he does this.

Once this is done, Joshua reads out all of the law to the Israelites.

Thoughts

I don’t really have much to say about this passage. I do like the fact that the Israelites are taking time out of their takeover of the Promised Land to renew their covenant with the LORD—we all need time to set aside to Him, to remind ourselves that we can do nothing without Him.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Joshua 8:1–29

Joshua 8:1–29: The Israelites take Ai

Synopsis

In the passage, the Israelites go back into battle with Ai—except this time, the LORD is on their side. In the passage, there is a before and an after—that is, there is a “here is what we’re going to do” part, and then another part which describes them doing it. I’m not bothering to describe all of that here.

To start off with, the LORD tells Joshua not to be afraid or discouraged. (Probably because of the events in the last passage, regarding Achan’s sin.) Joshua should go ahead and conquer Ai, because He has given it into Joshua’s hands. However, in this case, the Israelites are allowed to keep the plunder for themselves.

So the Israelites carry out an ingenious plan. I don’t know if it’s Joshua’s plan, or if the LORD gives it to him. (Well, yes, in either case, whether Joshua thought it was his plan or not, the LORD gave it to him; but I mean if the LORD directly told him, “this is what I want you to do.”) The Israelites send five thousand men to attack Ai, as before. However, unbeknownst to the people in Ai, Joshua also sends twenty-five thousand men around to the other side of Ai. When the soldiers from Ai come out to attack Joshua and his five thousand men, Joshua falls back, and pretends to retreat, fooling the soldiers of Ai to believe they are defeating the Israelites, as they’d done before—but once Joshua has drawn Ai’s men away from the city, the other twenty-five thousand soldiers overrun it. Then, as soon as Joshua and his men see that the city is being taken over, they turn around, and begin fighting the men from Ai in earnest. So the men of Ai are surrounded, with Joshua’s men in front, and the other twenty-five thousand men behind them.

So the Israelites defeat the people of Ai. (I really don’t know what to call them; Ai-ites? Ai-ians? Ai-evites?) They destroy the city, and leave it “a permanent heap of ruins” (verse 28).

Thoughts

It’s interesting that Achan was stoned for keeping some of the plunder of Jericho, which wasn’t allowed, and yet at the very next place the Israelites conquered, they were allowed to keep the plunder. If only Achan had waited until Ai, instead of keeping the plunder at Jericho!

I wonder if God might have been sending a message to the Israelites, by letting them keep the plunder of Ai right after punishing Achan for keeping plunder he wasn’t allowed to keep? Perhaps a message along the lines of, “My timing is not your timing, and you should obey my commands, because I know what the future holds, and you don’t,” or something similar?

Friday, January 25, 2008

Joshua 7

Joshua 7: Achan’s Sin

Synopsis

In the last passage, the Israelites went in and conquered the city of Jericho. However, what the last passage didn’t mention, and what we find out in this passage, is that they didn’t obey the LORD’s commandments fully: A man named Achan—son of Carmi, son of Zimri, son of Zerah, of the tribe of Judah—took some of the “devoted things” (verse 1), which were supposed to go to the LORD. However, Joshua and the rest of the Israelites don’t know about it.

So Joshua thinks everything is fine, and sends some men to Ai, which is the next region of the Promised Land that the Israelites are going to take over. The men look the place over, and come back with a very confident report to Joshua:

When they returned to Joshua, they said, “Not all the people will have to go up against Ai. Send two or three thousand men to take it and do not weary all the people, for only a few men are there.” (verse 3)

I’m sure much of this confidence comes from their victory over Jericho. Joshua takes their advice, and sends three thousand men to Ai, but they’re defeated, and chased out of the region. Also, thirty-six of them are killed, in the battle. (Which doesn’t sound like much, in a war, but it’s more than they’re used to.) The people immediately become disheartened.

Joshua, as well, is torn apart with grief. He tears his clothes—an outward sign of grief, in their culture; you’ll see it a lot in the Old Testament—falls facedown before the Ark, and remains there until evening. The elders of Israel do the same, and sprinkle dust on their heads, which is another cultural thing you’ll see a lot in the Old Testament. Then Joshua speaks:

And Joshua said, “Ah, Sovereign LORD, why did you ever bring this people across the Jordan to deliver us into the hands of the Amorites to destroy us? If only we had been content to stay on the other side of the Jordan! O Lord, what can I say, now that Israel has been routed by its enemies? The Canaanites and the other people of the country will hear about this and they will surround us and wipe out our name from the earth. What then will you do for your own great name?” (verses 7–9)

In a way, this almost reminds me of the usual Israelite refrain that we’ve been seeing; “Oh why didn’t you just leave us in Egypt, where we were happy!” But I don’t think this is Joshua’s intent. For one thing, he’s concerned with the LORD’s name being maligned. On the other hand, there is definitely something wrong with Joshua’s response to this crisis, because the LORD’s response to him is pretty curt:

The LORD said to Joshua, “Stand up! What are you doing down on your face? Israel has sinned; they have violated my covenant, which I commanded them to keep. They have taken some of the devoted things; they have stolen, they have lied, they have put them with their own possessions. That is why the Israelites cannot stand against their enemies; they turn their backs and run because they have been made liable to destruction. I will not be with you anymore unless you destroy whatever among you is devoted to destruction. (verses 10–12)

So God tells Joshua to have the people consecrate themselves, because He is going to sort this out. (Which is necessary, He tells them, because they won’t be able to stand against their enemies as long as they continue to have any devoted items among themselves. Meaning that He won’t be with them.) They are to present themselves the next day, tribe by tribe, and God will pick the tribe that contains the sinning party. And then within that tribe, they are to come forward clan by clan, and He’ll choose the clan that contains the sinners, and then family by family, and finally man by man.

So the Israelites do this. God chooses the tribe of Judah, then the Zerahite clan, then the family of Zimri. Finally Achan is chosen. So Achan admits his sin, and tells Joshua where the devoted things can be found, hidden in his tent. They go and get the things, to confirm it. So Achan is taken to a nearby valley, and he and his family are stoned to death. They called the valley, where Achan was stoned, the Valley of Achor. (The footnote for verse 26 tells us that “Achor” means “trouble.”)

After this, the LORD turns from his fierce anger (verse 26).

Thoughts

When the spies come back from Ai, and tell Joshua that he only needs to send a few thousand men to conquer the region, it doesn’t sound, to my ears, like confidence in the LORD, who will protect them. It sounds like over-confident swagger. However, I have nothing to back that up, except for the way that I’m reading the tone of their message. I wouldn’t be surprised if I were wrong, and they were just showing confidence in the LORD.

That being said, one thing this incident should have taught the Israelites is that they’d only win battles when the LORD was fighting those battles for them.

It always bothers me when a whole family is punished for the father’s sin, as Achan’s family was punished for Achan’s sin. Of course, the harsh punishment is a reminder that the LORD’s commands are absolute, and that the consequences are severe, but I’m still uncomfortable when Achan’s family is punished for his sins.

God will help me to understand that in time, I hope, but in the meantime, there is a lesson for me, too: As a husband, my actions will also impact my wife. If I sin, in many cases she will suffer. Maybe not directly—she won’t be stoned, like Achan’s wife was—but she will suffer the consequences for my sin. In an individualistic society, we don’t like to think about the fact that our sins have consequences on others—“it’s my life, and I can do whatever I want!”—but whether we’d like to admit it or not, our sins do have consequences on others.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Joshua 5:13–6:27

Joshua 5:13–6:27: The Fall of Jericho

Synopsis

In this passage, the nation of Israel has their first victory in the Promised Land, when they take over the city of Jericho.

But before they get there, Joshua runs into a man with a drawn sword. Joshua asks the man, “Are you for us or for our enemies?” (verse 5:13). But the man—who is really an angel, so that’s what I’ll call him from now on—tells Joshua that he’s not for the Israelites or their enemies; he’s for the LORD. When Joshua hears this, he realizes who and what the man is, so he falls facedown, and asks him what message he has for Joshua. But all the angel tells Joshua is to take his sandals off, because he’s standing on holy ground.

The LORD tells Joshua—possibly through the angel?—that He is delivering Jericho into Joshua’s hands. So this is what Joshua is to do:
  • Once a day, for six days, the Israelite army is to march around the city. The priests are to go with them, bringing the Ark, and blowing trumpets.
  • On the seventh day, they are to do the same thing, but they are to march around the city seven times, instead of once. After they’ve marched around the city seven times, the priests are to give a long blast on the trumpets, and the people are to give a loud shout; at that point, the wall of the city will collapse, and the Israelite army is to go in and take the city over.
So Joshua follows the LORD’s commands. He has the army march around the city, along with the priests, who are carrying the Ark and blowing their trumpets. But Joshua tells the people: “Do not give a war cry, do not raise your voices, do not say a word until the day I tell you to shout. Then shout!” (verse 6:10). Every day, for six days, the Israelites do this, and then return to their camp.

On the seventh day, they do the same thing, except that they march around the city seven times, instead of once. And then the priests blow on their trumpets, and Joshua gives the command for the people to shout. They are to go in and destroy the city, except for Rahab and her family. The people are also to be careful not to be tempted by the spoils of war:

“But keep away from the devoted things, so that you will not bring about your own destruction by taking any of them. Otherwise you will make the camp of Israel liable to destruction and bring trouble on it. All the silver and gold and the articles of bronze and iron are sacred to the LORD and must go into his treasury.” (verses 6:18–19)

Then everything happens just as the LORD promised: When the people give their shout, the wall of the city falls, and the people go in and destroy it, as they were told. Joshua sends the spies into the city to bring out Rahab and her family, and they put them in a safe place (outside the camp of Israel).

After this, Joshua pronounces a curse on the former site of the city of Jericho:

At that time Joshua pronounced this solemn oath: “Cursed before the LORD is the man who undertakes to rebuild this city, Jericho:

  “At the cost of his firstborn son
  will he lay its foundations;
  at the cost of his youngest
  will he set up its gates.”

(verse 6:26)

Thoughts

The Bible never specifically calls the “man” that Joshua meets an “angel,” but that’s what I’m calling him. And he doesn’t seem to have much of a role; he just tells Joshua that he’s on holy ground, and that’s it. I assume the point is to remind us that it wasn’t the Israelites who took the city of Jericho, it was God. Meaning, I guess, that God’s angels were fighting on behalf of Him, as were the Israelites. Or maybe that’s trying to be too detailed, about something that the Bible doesn’t give details about…

Monday, January 21, 2008

Joshua 5:1–12

Joshua 5:1–12: Circumcision and Passover

Synopsis

The Israelites have now crossed over into the Promised Land. (When the kings in the surrounding area heard about how the LORD had stopped the flow of the Jordan River, so that the Israelites could pass through, their hearts melted in fear.) However, before they can take it over, there is something they need to take care of: The men have to be circumcized. Why? Well, all of the men who were of fighting age, when the Israelites left Egypt, were circumcized, but they all died in the desert, because they had disobeyed the LORD—but the next generation of Israelites, who grew up during that forty years, were not circumcized.

So the Israelites circumcise themselves at a place called Gibeath Haaraloth, which, according to the footnote for verse 3, means “hill of foreskins.” But after they’ve performed the circumcision, the LORD tells Joshua, “Today I have rolled away the reproach of Egypt from you” (verse 9), so they rename Gibeath Haaraloth to Gilgal, which, according to the footnote for verse 9, sounds like the Hebrew for “roll.” They stay there for a while, until the men are healed.

While they’re at Gilgal, the time comes to celebrate Passover, so they do. The day after Passover, the Israelites are able to eat some of the fruit of the land for the first time. But that day (or the day after; the Hebrew isn’t 100% clear), the manna from heaven stops appearing, and the Israelites are no longer being fed directly by God.

Thoughts

I don’t know who is supposed to have written the book of Joshua—Joshua himself?—but this chapter is actually written in the first person. The author mentions that the LORD had dried up the Jordan “until we had crossed over,” and talks about the Promised Land as being the land that the LORD had promised “us.”

I’m not sure why the Israelites weren’t circumcising their children during the forty years they spent in the desert. But, since the LORD is telling Joshua that He has now rolled away the Israelites’ reproach, I’m guessing that it is somehow related to their sin in the desert. Except that He calls it “the reproach of Egypt,” and the sin which caused them to remain in the desert for forty years happened after they’d left Egypt—so that doesn’t make sense. So I don’t know why the Israelite children weren’t circumcized during that time.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Joshua 3–4

Joshua 3–4: The Israelites enter the Promised Land

Synopsis

The Israelites are now ready to enter the Promised Land. The LORD is with them, their spies have brought back a good report, everything’s in their favour. It’s time.

They move right up to the edge of the Jordan river, which is the boundary to the Promised Land, and they camp there for a few days. The officers then go through the camp, and tell the Israelites how this will work: the Ark is going to be carried ahead of them, into the Promised Land, and all they have to do is follow it. However, they are not to get too close to it; they are to keep a distance of almost a kilometre from it (900 metres). That being said, the people are to get ready, because tomorrow will be the big day.

The next day, the LORD tells Joshua that He is about to exalt Joshua in the Israelites’ eyes, so that they’ll know that He is with Joshua the way He was with Moses. Joshua then tells the people about the miracle the LORD is going to perform: when the priests set foot in the river, the water of the river will “stand up in a heap” (verse 3:13), and the flow of the river will be cut off.

Joshua has the priests take up the Ark, to lead the way, and they enter the river. Even though the river is at flood level, it happens the way Joshua said it would: the flow of the water cuts off, and piles up a ways away, so that the priests enter the river bed and are standing on dry ground. The priests remain stainding in the middle of the rivver, while all of the people of Israel pass by. (Verse 4:10 says that they are in a hurry, which is understandable.) Right at the front of the Israelites are the fighting men from the tribes of Reuben, Gad, and Manasseh, because that was part of their deal, when the LORD let them settle on the other side of the Jordan. Altogether, forty thousand soldiers crossed the river that day, according to verse 4:13, but I don’t have the statistical skills to calculate how big that would make the nation of Israel, if you were to add in the women and children.

Once the people have crossed over, the LORD commands Joshua to get twelve men—one from each tribe of Israel—to go back to the river bed, where the priests are still standing with the Ark, and find twelve stones. They are to carry the stones out of the river, and they will then serve as a memorial, reminding the people of what the LORD had done when the Israelites crossed the Jordan.

They do as they’re told, and bring the stones to the Israelite camp. (Verse 4:9 says that they’re there to this day, although I guess that would mean the day that the book of Joshua was written; I don’t know if the stones are still there now, but I doubt it.) After all of this, the LORD commands Joshua to command the priests to come out of the river bed, and as soon as they set their feet on the river bank, the water rushes back and returns to normal.

The result of all of this is summed up in verse 4:14:

That day the LORD exalted Joshua in the sight of all Israel; and they revered him all the days of his life, just as they had revered Moses. (verse 4:14)

After this, they go and camp at Gilgal, which is on the border of Jericho. He sets up the stones—the passage doesn’t indicate how he sets them up, it just says that he sets them up—as a memorial of what the LORD has done.

He said to the Israelites, “In the future when your descendants ask their fathers, ‘What do these stones mean?’ tell them, ‘Israel crossed the Jordan on dry ground.’ For the LORD your God dried up the Jordan before you until you had crossed over. The LORD your God did to the Jordan just what he had done to the Red Sea when he dried it up before us until we had crossed over. He did this so that all the peoples of the earth might know that the hand of the LORD is powerful and so that you might always fear the LORD your God.” (verses 4:21–24)

Thoughts

I’m sure anyone who reads this passage has the same idea, but I think the LORD is intentionally performing this miracle at the beginning of Joshua’s term as the Israelites’ leader to show that He is with Joshua just as He was with Moses; the Jordan River is being parted, just like the Red Sea was parted for Moses. Except that Joshua is a bit less involved than Moses was; he doesn’t have to stand beside the river and raise his staff or anything, the miracle just happens.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Joshua 2

Joshua 2: Rahab and the Spies

Synopsis

In this chapter, Joshua sends some spies into the Promised Land, to take a look around before he sends in the troops.

He sends two spies, and instructs them to look the place over—especially Jericho, which must have some kind of significance. (I’m guessing it’s the capital.) They go, and stay at the house of a prostitute named Rahab, who lives in Jericho. However, while the spies are there, the king of Jericho hears about it, and commands Rahab to bring the men out to him. Rahab, however, had taken the men up to her roof, and hidden them under some flax that was laying up there. So when the king’s messengers come, she tells them that the men had been there, but that they’ve gone. (And, for good measure, she tells the king’s men that she didn’t know they were Israelites.) She tells the king’s men to run after them—maybe there’s still time to catch them!

Once the king’s men have gone off after the spies, Rahab goes up to the roof to talk to them. She tells them that she knows the LORD has given the Israelites her country, and all of the people where she lives are “melting in fear” (verse 9) because of them. When everyone heard about what the LORD did at the Red Sea, and then how He defeated the kings on the other side of the Jordan, their “hearts melted” and their “courage failed,” because “the LORD your God is God in heaven above and on the earth below” (verse 11).

So Rahab asks the spies to spare her and her family. When they come to conquer the Promised Land, she would like them to spare her family. They agree:

“Our lives for your lives!” the men assured her. “If you don’t tell what we are doing, we will treat you kindly and faithfully when the LORD gives us the land.” (verse 14)

However, there are some conditions that Rahab must meet:

  • The spies give Rahab a scarlet cord, which she must tie in her window
  • All of Rahab’s family must be inside her house, when the Israelites attack; they won’t be responsible for the safety of anyone outside the house
  • Rahab must not tell anyone what the spies are doing

If these conditions aren’t met, the spies will no longer be bound by their oath. She agrees to the terms.

So Rahab—whose house is part of the city wall—lets the men out a window, to climb down the wall on a rope. She tells them to go up into the hills for a few days, until the men pursuing them return, and then they can go back to their people. They do, and after a few days, they go back across the Jordan to where Joshua and the people are waiting. They give a good report:

They said to Joshua, “The LORD has surely given the whole land into our hands; all the people are melting in fear because of us.” (verse 24)

Thoughts

I find it interesting that Joshua begins his leadership by sending in spies to the Promised Land. The last time they did this, the Israelites didn’t react so well. However, this time it seems to have worked out nicely.

Rahab is an interesting example of faith, because she’s not an Israelite. She’s a foreigner, living in a foreign land, and the only information she has about the LORD is what she’s heard through rumours and second-hand stories. And yet, it’s enough to know that He is “God in heaven above and on the earth below” (verse 11).

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Joshua 1

Joshua 1: Joshua takes the reigns

Synopsis

At the end of Deuteronomy, Moses died, and left Joshua in charge of the Israelites. The book of Joshua marks the beginning of Joshua’s leadership.

The first thing that happens is that the LORD talks to Joshua, and tells him the following:

  • Now that Moses is dead, Joshua and the Israelites are to prepare to enter the Promised Land, which He will give them.
  • As long as Joshua lives, God will be with him, the way He was with Moses, and nobody will be able to stand up against him.
  • Joshua is to be strong, and courageous. (God uses the phrase “be strong and courageous” three times in this chapter, in verses 6, 7, and 9. And, interestingly, the leaders of some of the Israelite tribes also use the phrase, in verse 18.)
  • Joshua is also to be careful to adhere to God’s law. He is to carefully keep to it, and meditate on it—and if he does, he will be prosperous and successful.

So Joshua begins to “rally the troops.” He gets the officers, and tells them to prepare, because in three days, they’ll be crossing the Jordan, to take possession of the land.

However, he takes special care to talk to the Reubenites, Gadites, and Manassites—is that the right name for the tribe of Manasseh?—and reminds them about the vow they made: although they already have their land, on this side of the Jordan, their fighting men are to cross the Jordan ahead of their brothers, and help them to conquer the land. (The text doesn’t use the word “conquer,” but let’s be honest, that’s what they’re doing.) Once the land is settled, they can return to their own land. They agree, and tell Joshua that they will indeed cross the Jordan ahead of their brothers. They also tell him that they’ll obey him just as they obeyed Moses—but with a bit of a caveat:

Just as we fully obeyed Moses, so we will obey you. Only may the LORD your God be with you as he was with Moses. (verse 17)

Which, really, is a pretty good caveat, right? “As long as God is with you, we’ll be with you.” Frankly, if God were to abandon Joshua, then the people probably should too…

Thoughts

This is a very straightforward account of Joshua taking over from Moses. I do wonder, though, if verse 17, quoted above, indicates a general sense among the Israelites, that they’re waiting to see how Joshua will do, in Moses’ place.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Deuteronomy Summary

For the most part, the book of Deuteronomy is one long speech by Moses, to the Israelites, before his death. (I was tempted to call it his “swan song,” but that would imply that the speech is a performance, and I don’t think of Moses as “performing” in this book.) Much of the book/speech is spent reminding the nation of Israel of events that have taken part since they left Egypt, or reminding them of laws that were handed down in Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers.

As you’ll remember from Numbers 20, Moses and Aaron sinned before the LORD, and were therefore forbidden from entering the Promised Land. I had a memory, when I started blogging through Deuteronomy, that Moses had numerous passages where he blamed the Israelites for this, but having gone through it again, he spends much less time blaming them than I thought he did.

You may be wondering where the name “Deuteronomy” came from. What does it mean? Is it a Hebrew term of some kind? (This was my assumption.) I looked it up, so if you’re interested, see the bottom of this post for a bit of history. (I put it at the bottom, under the list of links, because I figured that most people probably wouldn’t care…)

The Name “Deuteronomy”

It turns out that the title “Deuteronomy” comes from a mistranslation; it’s from verse 17:18: “When he [the king] takes the throne of his kingdom, he is to write for himself on a scroll a copy of this law, taken from that of the priests, who are Levites” (emphasis added). I’ll quote the Jewish Encyclopedia explanation of what happened:

The English appellation is derived from the name which the book bears in the Septuagint (Δευτερουόμιου) and in the Vulgate (Deuteronomium); and this is based upon the erroneous Septuagint rendering of “mishnch ha-torah ha-zot” (xvii. 18), which grammatically can mean only “a repetition [that is, a copy] of this law,” but which is rendered by the Septuagint τὸ Δευτερουόμιου τοῦτο, as though the expression meant “this repetition of the law.” While, however, the name is thus a mistranslation, it is not inappropriate; for the book does include, by the side of much new matter, a repetition or reformulation of a large part of the laws found in the non-priestly sections (known as “JE”) of Exodus.

(If you’re not familiar with the term “Septuagint,” you can look it up using Google’s definition feature. It’s basically the Greek translation of the Old Testament that would have been used in Jesus’ time, and is still used a lot by Bible translators and scholars today.)

If you wish, you can also see the Wikipedia page on Deuteronomy, which also describes where the title came from. I’m not sure if it agrees with the Jewish Encyclopedia…

Monday, January 07, 2008

Deuteronomy 34

Deuteronomy 34: Moses dies

Synopsis

Back in Deuteronomy 32, the LORD gave Moses instructions for his death. In this chapter, it takes place.

As instructed, Moses goes up onto Mount Nebo, and the LORD shows him all of the Promised Land. At this time, Moses is 120 years old, and yet he’s not showing his age; verse 7 indicates that his eyes aren’t weak, and nor is is strength gone.

After this, Moses dies, and the LORD buries him in a secret grave (verse 6). (Actually, verse 6 is a little unclear as to who buries Moses, but I think it’s the LORD.) The Israelites observe thirty days of weeping and mourning, to commemorate him.

Before Moses had died, he laid hands on Joshua, and Joshua now has “the spirit of wisdom” (verse 9), so the Israelites take him as their new leader.

The chapter—and the book of Deuteronomy—end with this summary:

Since then, no prophet has risen in Israel like Moses, whom the LORD knew face to face, who did all those miraculous signs and wonders the LORD sent him to do in Egypt—to Pharaoh and to all his officials and to his whole land. For no one has ever shown the mighty power or performed the awesome deeds that Moses did in the sight of all Israel. (verses 10–12)

Thoughts

When Deuteronomy says that “since then, no prophet has risen in Israel like Moses,” I sometimes wonder: what is the point of reference? Would that include John the Baptist? Or Elijah or Elisha? But I don’t think it matters; I don’t think any of those prophets were like Moses. And I don’t think there will be another like him. So I guess the writer of Deuteronomy felt confident enough to say “since then,” knowing that it would be true even readers hundreds of years away. (I don’t know if the author would have expected the book to last thousands of years.)

I say “the author,” because tradition says that the book was written by Moses. (As were Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers.) But I’m not sure of Moses prophetically wrote the last chapter of Deuteronomy before he died, or if someone else stepped in and finished it off for him. Or perhaps the whole thing was scribed by someone else, and the book is just attributed to him since he provided all of the information.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Deuteronomy 33

Deuteronomy 33: Moses’ last words

Synopsis

This chapter records Moses’ last public speech, before his death. (He may very well have said something else, after, to Joshua or to the LORD, but it’s not recorded in Deuteronomy.) It’s mostly a series of blessings and/or prophecies that Moses gives to the tribes of Israel.

But first, as with any good speech, a prologue:

This is the blessing that Moses the man of God pronounced on the Israelites before his death. He said:
  “The LORD came from Sinai
  and dawned over them from Seir;
  he shone forth from Mount Paran.
  He came with myriads of holy ones
  from the south, from his mountain slopes.

Surely it is you who love the people;
  all the holy ones are in your hand.
  At your feet they all bow down,
  and from you receive instruction,

the law that Moses gave us,
  the possession of the assembly of Jacob.

He was king over Jeshurun
  when the leaders of the people assembled,
  along with the tribes of Israel.

(verses 1–5)


Aside from the fact that Moses refers to himself in the third person—indicating to me that he is speaking on behalf of the LORD, and not just on his own behalf—notice also that the prologue is more about God than about the Israelites. As well it should be—any blessings they’re getting will come from Him anyway.

This taken care of, Moses says something to each of the tribes, which he addresses as if they were individual men, instead of groups of people. I’ll follow his example, and do the same:

  • Reuben: Not much, for Reuben. Moses just asks the LORD to let him live and not die, and not to let his men be few—which, to me, means that Moses was asking the LORD to bless the tribe of Reuben with lots of children.
  • Judah: Moses says that Judah defends his causes with his own hands, and asks the LORD to be his help against his foes. Moses also asks the LORD to “bring him to his people” (verse 7), and I haven’t the faintest idea what that means.
  • Levi: To Levi, Moses says a number of things:
    • First, Moses says that Levi’s Thummim and Urim belong to “the man you favored” (verse 8)—the one that Levi tested at Massah and contended with at the waters of Meribah. I think this means that Moses is reminding the Levites that the Thummim and Urim are used to get answers from the LORD; they’re not just dice, that give random outcomes.
    • Moses reminds them that they chose the LORD, over their own fellow Israelites, back in Exodus 32, when the people had been worshipping the golden calf.
    • Moses reminds the LORD—and the Levites—that the Levites are responsible for teaching His precepts and laws to Israel, and for presenting offerings and incense.
    • Finally, Moses asks the LORD to bless the works of Levi’s hands, and to be pleased with the works of his hands. (Which seems redundant to me—if the LORD has blessed the works of Levi’s hands, then of course He will be pleased with the works of his hands—but in a way, it makes sense. It’s related to the question of why you would pray to the LORD at all, when He’s already in control of everything, and knows what He is going to do. (Which John Piper has covered before.) Moses also asks the LORD to “smite the loins” (verse 11) of anyone who rises up against Levi.
  • Benjamin: I’ll just quote this one, because it’s so tender:

    About Benjamin he said:
      “Let the beloved of the LORD rest secure in him,
      for he shields him all day long,
      and the one the LORD loves rests between his shoulders.”

    (verse 12)

  • Joseph: Interestingly, Joseph gets a mention, instead of the two half tribes from Joseph’s sons. Moses has a few things to say to the tribe of Joseph, whom he calls “the prince among his brothers” (verse 16):
    • First, he spends a few verses asking the LORD to bless his land.
    • Moses then compares Joseph to a bull, in his majesty.
  • Zebulun and Issachar: Interestingly, Moses lumps these two tribes together. He tells Zebulun to rejoice in his “going out,” and Issachar in his tents (verse 18). Then he says some things that I don’t understand:

    “They will summon peoples to the mountain
      and there offer sacrifices of righteousness;
      they will feast on the abundance of the seas,
      on the treasures hidden in the sand.”

    (verse 19)


    I assume this means that these tribes will be fishermen, although I’m not sure about the “treasures hidden in the sand” part.
  • Gad: Moses compares Gad to a lion, enlarging God’s domain. Gad chose the best land for himself, but Moses doesn’t seem to hold this against Gad, since he “carried out the LORD’s righteous will, and his judgments concerning Israel” (verse 21).
  • Dan: Moses doesn’t say much about Dan, except that he is a lion’s cub, “springing out of Bashan” (verse 22). I don’t know what this means; it might be a reference to an earlier episode in the Israelites’ history. Perhaps the Danites played a large role in the defeat of Og, king of Bashan? (See Numbers 21 and Deuteronomy 3.)
  • Naphtali: Moses indicates that Naphtali is “abounding with the favor of the LORD,” and indicates that the tribe will inherit the land “southward to the lake” (verse 23).
  • Asher: Moses says that Asher is “most blessed of sons” (verse 24), and expresses wishes for him to be favoured by his brothers, and to bathe his feet in oil. This sounds, to me, like a wish for Asher to live a life of luxury, but then in the next verse Moses also says that Asher’s strength will equal his days, which, to me, indicates that people in the tribe of Asher will not grow old and feeble, but will remain healthy and productive to the ends of their lives.

Moses then sums up the speech:

“There is no one like the God of Jeshurun,
  who rides on the heavens to help you
  and on the clouds in his majesty.

The eternal God is your refuge,
  and underneath are the everlasting arms.
  He will drive out your enemy before you,
  saying, ‘Destroy him!’

So Israel will live in safety alone;
  Jacob’s spring is secure
  in a land of grain and new wine,
  where the heavens drop dew.

Blessed are you, O Israel!
  Who is like you,
a people saved by the LORD?
  He is your shield and helper
  and your glorious sword.
  Your enemies will cower before you,
  and you will trample down their high places.”

(verses 26–29)


Actually, some of this might be part of Moses’ blessing to Asher. I don’t think so, which is why I included it here, but it’s possible.

Thoughts

One thing that I still don’t understand about the Old Testament is the concept of pronouncing “blessings” on people. When Moses blesses each of the tribes in this chapter, is he giving prophecies? Except that he says things like “let Reuben live and not die”—when he says “let,” it sounds more like a wish than a prophecy.

I’m also not sure why God continues to lump all of the members of a tribe together, as if they were one man.