Thursday, December 13, 2007

Deuteronomy 29

Deuteronomy 29: Renewal of the Covenant

Synopsis

The NIV title for this passage is “Renewal of the Covenant,” but it seems to me that it’s not so much a renewal, as it is just Moses reminding the Israelites, yet again, that Moses will be gone, soon, and the Israelites need to follow the LORD, in his absence.

He first summons the Israelites to him, and reminds them what the LORD did in Egypt; all of the signs and wonders that He performed. And then, for the forty years that they were in the desert, God preserved their clothes and their sandals, so that they didn’t wear out. And yet, Moses, says, “… to this day the LORD has not given you a mind that understands or eyes that see or ears that hear” (verse 4)—despite all that the Israelites have seen, they have not yet been granted wisdom to understand all of these events. To put them into perspective. Moses also reminds the Israelites that for the forty years they were in the desert they ate no bread and drank no wine (or other fermented drink), so that they would know that God was their LORD. (I don’t know if this qualifies as a “miracle,” but how likely is it that your clothes would last forty years, and not wear out?)

He then recounts their battles with the kings of Heshbon and Bashan, when the Israelites took their land, and gave it to the Reubenites, Gadites, and Manassites. (I don’t know if “Mannassites” is the right term; the NIV just says “the half-tribe of Manasseh” (verse 8).)

So how should the Israelites respond, when looking back at these past events?

Carefully follow the terms of this covenant, so that you may prosper in everything you do. All of you are standing today in the presence of the LORD your God—your leaders and chief men, your elders and officials, and all the other men of Israel, together with your children and your wives, and the aliens living in your camps who chop your wood and carry your water. You are standing here in order to enter into a covenant with the LORD your God, a covenant the LORD is making with you this day and sealing with an oath, to confirm you this day as his people, that he may be your God as he promised you and as he swore to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. I am making this covenant, with its oath, not only with you who are standing here with us today in the presence of the LORD our God but also with those who are not here today. (verses 9–15)

And, of course, part of being God’s people is not worshipping other gods/idols. Moses reminds the Israelites that all of the nations they passed through, from Egypt to the Promised Land, had idols that they worshipped. The Israelites, however, are not to fall into such idolatry; they are to “make sure there is no root among you that produces such bitter poison” (verse 18).

Moses then touches on a very interesting point, and one that the Israelites will suffer from for the next couple of hundred years (or whatever): He warns the Israelites that people will hear the oath the LORD has sworn to Israel, and think that they are protected by God, that they are God’s people, even if they go their own way. But this will not be tolerated:

When such a person hears the words of this oath, he invokes a blessing on himself and therefore thinks, “I will be safe, even though I persist in going my own way.” This will bring disaster on the watered land as well as the dry. The LORD will never be willing to forgive him; his wrath and zeal will burn against that man. All the curses written in this book will fall upon him, and the LORD will blot out his name from under heaven. The LORD will single him out from all the tribes of Israel for disaster, according to all the curses of the covenant written in this Book of the Law. (verses 19–21)

There is a footnote, that indicates verse 19 could also be translated as:

When such a person hears the words of this oath, he invokes a blessing on himself and therefore thinks, “I will be safe, even though I persist in going my own way, in order to add drunkenness to thirst.”

Neither translation really makes sense to me; I think this verse is using an idiom from the Israelites’ day, that doesn’t translate well anymore.

If and when this happens, everyone will wonder why the LORD will have afflicted His nation; why the people have diseases, and why the whole land is a desolate, barren wasteland, just like Sodom and Gomorrah were when He destroyed them.

All the nations will ask: “Why has the LORD done this to this land? Why this fierce, burning anger?”

And the answer will be: “It is because this people abandoned the covenant of the LORD, the God of their fathers, the covenant he made with them when he brought them out of Egypt. They went off and worshiped other gods and bowed down to them, gods they did not know, gods he had not given them. Therefore the LORD’s anger burned against this land, so that he brought on it all the curses written in this book. In furious anger and in great wrath the LORD uprooted them from their land and thrust them into another land, as it is now.”

(verses 24–28)


The chapter ends with an enigmatic, and yet very popular, verse:

The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may follow all the words of this law. (verse 29)

You don’t have to know everything. You just have to know what God has chosen to reveal to you—if you don’t know something, and it’s not explained in the Bible, it means that you don’t need to know it.

Thoughts

You could view the entire book of Deuteronomy as Moses trying to prepare the Israelites to get along without him. (Or the LORD preparing the Israelites to get along without Moses, depending on your point of view.) This chapter is one of the places where it’s very direct; “look,” Moses is saying, “you’re going to be on your own soon. You need to make sure to follow the LORD! Don’t ever forget that!”

It’s no accident that God specifically warns the Israelites not to think they can get away with doing whatever they want to do, and yet still be treated as God’s chosen people. As I mentioned earlier, this notion will plague the Israelites for much of their later history. Time and again God will send a prophet to them, to warn them that He will punish them for disobedience, and they will not listen to the prophets, thinking that God would never let them be defeated by another nation—after all, they’re His chosen people!

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