Thoughts on Deuteronomy Day 7 Lent 2013

I was not able to read all of Deuteronomy before I left for work this morning. I had to finish it by audio later in the day. Yes, this reading plan, all of the Bible in six and half weeks, is over the top. This last book in the Pentateuch is over the top as well.

The first verse gives us no indication when this book was assembled, Deut 1:1a 1 These are the words that Moses spoke to all Israel beyond the Jordan in the wilderness... and there are enough clues for the experts to suspect it was put together in the reign of Josiah and edited afterwards during the Babylonian exile. Even my conservative ESV Study Bible acknowledges this as a possibility. The wikipedia link at the Deuteronomy highlight above has a little more info on that topic.

Moses reviews their history with the Israelites while they gather to cross the Jordan River. Most of their history is about their failures and Moses blames them for his sin and subsequent judgment which resulted in his prevention to enter the Promised Land himself. Then he reviews the entire law, with amendments, hence the books name "Second Law" in Latin, for the rest of the book. The important lesson is "if even Moses (a prophet unlike any other) can get severe consequences from God, you (God's chosen people) can too."
Avoid idols, since there is only one God, and if you do go the idolatry route, there will be hell to pay.
He reviews of the 10 commandments. One interesting difference between Exodus and Deut. is the reason for the Sabbath. In Exodus 20, it's given because God rested after creating for six days. In Deut. 5, it's given because they were slaves in Egypt.
Next he gives them the ultimate commandment. Deut. 6:4-9
4 "Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. 5 You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. 6 And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. 7 You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. 8 You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. 9 You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.
God also requests fidelity. He doesn't want to part of a pantheon.
Then it gets really awkward for me. God tells them to completely destroy the people groups they are displacing (7:2). I hate genocide. I hate that he is presented as forbidding murder in the 10 commandments, but ordering them to murder non-combatants when they invade. It's not only revolting to me, but contradictory. It feels man-made to me and not God-inspired. (I've read some good books on this topic.) These directives have been used by christian invaders to justify war crimes. In my reading, I'm familiar with the eradication of native americans non-combatants with some "biblical" justification.
God promises he'll send hornets (7:20) to drive the people out ahead of them, but we never read about the success of the hornets ever again. The ESV suggests hornets may not be literal, but representative of the panic people have when they know the Israelites are coming. Who wouldn't be scared of a vicious army that leaves no one alive.
God tells them not to forget him after they succeed. He also tells them they get this land, not because of how great they are but because of how awful the current inhabitants are and because he keeps his promises to their forefathers, Abe, Isaac, and Jacob. Then he reviews all the awful things the Israelites have done since the exodus to prove his point. The writing is on the wall though. If they can't keep it straight while he is guiding them with a pillar of fire and a cloud, lashing out at them periodically when they screw up, how can it ever be expected to get better for them?
Then the rules come: where to worship, what not to worship (anything but him), what to (not) eat, how much to give, when to have vacation feasts, what to do during them, what to sacrifice during them, various legal provisions, warfare rules, when do you get to kill a rebellious son, neighborly behavior, who can't you have sex with, ugly rape laws (Deut. 22:25-29), who is forbidden from community worship, interest rules (they can charge interest to foreigners, just not fellow Israelites), on and on with miscellaneous laws (there is no rhyme or reason to their order), worship taxes.

Now the call and response of the nation of blessings and curses begins in ch. 27. The curses are terrifying. I listened to this instead of reading it. The details of the curses in ch. 28 are not something I would imagine caused anyone to love God more. Promises of rape and enslavement and cannibalism. It's really extreme. Maybe this was no big deal in pre-modern times, but no wonder anyone who reads this has a problem imagining God has a bad temper and is anything but loving. In this case, his love is very conditional. The only part that is unconditional is the promise that he will always receive them back whenever they repent of their sins. The issue is not that there are consequences for their sins, but that those consequences are not natural ones with God's passive input, but God actively punishes them with these gross things.

Moses follows up with a song that portrays God violently. It feels like a projection of Moses onto God. The book ends with Moses' blessings for each tribe and his death. Joshua, his assistant takes over the leadership of the nation.

Jesus quotes from Deuteronomy several times in the gospels. And the stuff he quotes is not offensive. Overall though, there isn't much progressive, great society ideas in this book. Deut. is a hinge book. It belongs to the end of the pentateuch but also the beginning of the history books. I'm not looking forward to reading Joshua tomorrow. I don't like his genocidal campaign at all. No one should.
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