Monday, May 13, 2013

Reboot the Pentateuch: A New Constitution is Ratified (Deut 1-24)

This is part 19 of 20 in a series about the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Bible. In it we will explore the context of the book, specifically its relationship to the Egyptian culture of its day.

Click here to read the entire series.

After rescuing His people (week 16), forming a nation with its own secular laws (week 17), inventing a religion to worship Him (week 18), and helping His people inhabit a new land (last week), we reach the conclusion of God's work in the time of Moses. In this last book of the Pentateuch, we have Deuteronomy--literally, "second Law" or a  "second telling" of what God did before.

This entire book is a formal, legal code of the ancient world: a suzerain covenant between God and man, with Moses as the intercessor. If you read here you will see that I have discussed this particular covenantal structure at length before, and I will not repeat it. But to give a summary, here is how to read all of Deuteronomy:

Preamble: Deut 1:1-4
Establishes God as the sovereign, Moses as the mediator, and the Israelites as the vassals.

Historical Prologue: Deut 1:5-4:43
This recalls how God led the Israelites to possess their land and helped them overthrow their enemies. It serves as evidence for remembering why it is right for God to be the sovereign/suzerain in the agreement.

Conditions and Terms: Deut 4:44-26:19
This is a long sermon in which Moses lists every command given by God, as well as expounding on them in sermon style. He lists the conditions and terms of the covenant, recalling instances where the Jews have failed and instances in which they have succeeded. 

Witnesses: Deut 27:1-10
In this section, the Hebrews build an altar to the Lord and inscribe the words of the Law, to form a witness to their covenant with God. After this is completed, Moses says, "You have now become the people of the Lord your God." (v.9). This is the final approval of the covenant.

Cursings and Blessings: Deut 27:11-30:20
This section completes the covenant formula, describing in detail both cursings for disobedience and blessings for obedience.

Appendix: Deut 31-35
The final chapters of Deuteronomy (31-34), are an appendix recounting the death of Moses and the anointment of Joshua as his successor as chief Judge of Israel. 

This is, for all intents and purposes, their Constitution: just as we Americans formally ratified our Constitution in 1789 and put it into effect, so too is Deuteronomy the formal ratification and implementation of what God had been doing among the Jews for a full generation.