Highlights of the Bible in Deuteronomy - texts explained and practical lessons
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Highlights From Bible Reading ‒ Deuteronomy
1. Historical context
2. Overview and structure
3. Highlights of Deuteronomy
4. Importance and benefits
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Deuteronomy ‒ Historical context
DEUTERONOMYThe Hebrew name of this fifth book of the Pentateuch is Deva•rim′ (Words), drawn from the opening phrase in the Hebrew text. The name “Deuteronomy” comes from the Septuagint Greek title Deu•te•ro•no′mi•on, literally meaning “Second Law; Repetition of the Law.” This comes from the Greek rendering of a Hebrew phrase in Deuteronomy 17:18, mish•neh′ hat•toh•rah′, correctly rendered ‘copy of the law.’
The authenticity of Deuteronomy as a book of the Bible canon and the writership of Moses are well established by the fact that Deuteronomy has always been considered by the Jews as a part of the Law of Moses. The evidence for the authenticity of Deuteronomy is, in general, the same as that for the other four books of the Pentateuch. (See PENTATEUCH; also books under individual names.) Jesus is the foremost authority for the authenticity of Deuteronomy, quoting from it three times in turning away the temptations of Satan the Devil. (Mt 4:1-11; De 6:13, 16; 8:3) Also, Jesus answered the question as to what was the greatest and first commandment by quoting from Deuteronomy 6:5. (Mr 12:30) And Paul quotes from Deuteronomy 30:12-14; 32:35, 36.—Ro 10:6-8; Heb 10:30.
The time covered by the book of Deuteronomy is somewhat over two months in the year 1473 B.C.E. It was written on the Plains of Moab and consists of four discourses, a song, and a blessing by Moses as Israel camped on Canaan’s borders prior to entering the land.—De 1:3; Jos 1:11; 4:19.
Purpose. Despite the meaning of the name Deuteronomy, this book is not a second law nor a repetition of the entire Law but, rather, an explanation of it, as Deuteronomy 1:5 says. It exhorts Israel to faithfulness to Jehovah, using the generation of the 40 years’ wandering as an example to avoid. Moses explains and elaborates on some of the essential points of the Law and the principles therein, with a view to the altered circumstances of Israel when they would be settled permanently in the land. He adjusts some of the laws accordingly and gives further regulations concerning the administration of government in their settled condition in the Promised Land.
In exhorting them and calling on them to enter into this renewed covenant with Jehovah through Moses, the book of Deuteronomy places the emphasis strikingly on knowledge, teaching, and instruction. The words “teach,” “teaching,” and “taught” occur much more often in Deuteronomy than in Exodus, Leviticus, or Numbers. Moses explained that Jehovah was teaching Israel by feeding them with manna. (De 8:3) He told the Israelites to place Jehovah’s law, figuratively speaking, as frontlets between their eyes and on the doorposts of their houses and on their gates. (6:8, 9) He commanded them to inculcate his law in their sons. (6:6, 7) Instructions were given to read the Law every seventh year, during the time of the (annual) Festival of Booths. (31:10-13) Special instructions were given for the king that Israel might have in the future. He was to write a copy of the Law for himself and read in it every day. (17:18-20) Each time Israel went out to battle, the priests were to admonish the people to faith and courage and to assure them of victory, for Jehovah their God was marching with them. (20:1-4) When they should enter the Promised Land, they were to divide the tribes into two groups, with one group on Mount Ebal and the other on Mount Gerizim, and then they were to have God’s Law read to them.—27:11-26; compare Jos 8:33-35.
Love Highlighted. Love, kindness, and consideration are also highlighted in Deuteronomy. The word “love” itself, either as a noun or as a form of the verb, occurs more than five times as often in Deuteronomy as in Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers combined. Here we also have the greatest commandment, to which Jesus referred (Mt 22:36, 37), uniquely stated: “You must love Jehovah your God with all your heart and all your soul and all your vital force.” (De 6:5; see also 10:12; 11:13.) Jehovah repeatedly expresses his love for Israel. (7:7-9; 23:5; 33:3) The very tone of Deuteronomy highlights Jehovah’s love for his people: “If only they would develop this heart of theirs to fear me and to keep all my commandments always, in order that it might go well with them and their sons to time indefinite!” (5:29) In fact, we find such expressions as “that it may go well with you” and “that you may keep alive” time and again in Deuteronomy.—4:40; 5:16; 6:3; 22:7; 30:19, 20.
Even though warfare was ahead of Israel in taking the land, Jehovah did not overlook loving consideration. Victory was not so important or urgent that ruthless demands were to be made. An engaged man was exempt. (De 20:7) Exemption was made for a newly married man, so that he could cherish his wife and she have her husband for at least a full year. (24:5) If a man planted a vineyard and had not eaten the fruit of it or built a house and had not inaugurated it, he was excused from warfare so that he might enjoy the fruits of his labors.—20:5, 6.
Explicit details were given with respect to waging war and taking the land of Canaan. The fearful were to be sent home, lest they make the hearts of their brothers also weak. (De 20:8) The cities of the specified nations of Canaan whose wickedness had come to the full were to be devoted to destruction without fail, but the cities not of these specified nations were to be given the alternative of surrender or destruction. If they surrendered, they were to be put to forced labor, but the Law required that even slaves be treated with kindness, and its commandments protected the women from being molested even in cities taken in war. In cases of cities that refused to surrender, all the males were put to death, only the little children and the women who had not had relations with men being spared. (20:10-18; compare Nu 31:17, 18.) In building siegeworks around a city, the Israelites were not permitted to cut down fruit trees.—De 20:19, 20.
Animals were also given loving consideration in the book of Deuteronomy. The Israelites were prohibited from taking a bird sitting on a nest, for it was the protective instinct for her offspring that made her vulnerable. She was allowed to escape, but the young could be claimed by the Israelites for themselves. The mother was thus free to raise more young. (De 22:6, 7) The farmer was not permitted to hitch an ass with a bull, to prevent hardship on the weaker animal. (22:10) The bull was not to be muzzled while threshing the grain so that he would not be tormented with hunger while grain was so close at hand and he was exerting his energy in work to thresh it.—25:4.
In family and social life consideration was shown. The firstborn son was to receive the double portion, regardless of whether he was the son of the favorite wife or not. (De 21:15-17) Brother-in-law marriage was stated as a law for the first time, and penalties were outlined in order to give it force. (25:5-10) Honest weights and measures were mandated. (25:13-16) The value of life was stressed by the command to build a parapet around the roof of a house. (22:8) Consideration even for the wrongdoer that was to be given strokes was indicated by the Law that limited the strokes to 40. (25:1-3) All these regulations gave more detail to the Law, while also showing great consideration. At the same time there was more strictness.
Warnings and Laws. Deuteronomy is filled with warnings against false worship and unfaithfulness as well as instructions on how to deal with it so that pure worship might be preserved. The exhortation to holiness was an outstanding thing in Deuteronomy. The Israelites were admonished not to intermarry with the nations round about, because this would present a threat to pure worship and loyalty to Jehovah. (De 7:3, 4) They were warned against materialism and self-righteousness. (8:11-18; 9:4-6) Strong laws were made regarding apostasy. They were to watch themselves so that they would not turn to other gods. (11:16, 17) They were warned against false prophets. Instructions were given in two places as to how to identify a false prophet and how he should be dealt with. (13:1-5; 18:20-22) Even if a member of one’s own family should become apostate, the family was not to have pity but was to share in stoning such a one to death.—13:6-11.
Cities of Israel that turned apostate were to be devoted to destruction, and nothing was to be preserved for personal benefit by anyone. The city was never to be rebuilt. (De 13:12-17) Delinquents whose parents could not control them were to be stoned to death.—21:18-21.
Holiness and freedom from bloodguilt were emphasized by the law concerning the way to handle an unsolved murder. (De 21:1-9) Indicative of the zeal for pure worship, Deuteronomy contained regulations as to who could become a member of Jehovah’s congregation and when. No illegitimate son to the tenth generation, no Moabite or Ammonite to time indefinite, and no eunuch could be admitted. However, Egyptians and Edomites of the third generation could become members of the congregation.—23:1-8.
Deuteronomy outlines the judicial arrangement for Israel when settled in the Promised Land. It sets forth the qualifications for judges and the arrangement of courts in the city gates, with the sanctuary as the supreme court of the land, whose judgments were to be followed by all Israel.—De 16:18–17:13.
Deuteronomy emphasizes Jehovah’s position as the unique God (De 6:4), Israel’s position as his unique people (4:7, 8), and the establishment of one central place of worship (12:4-7). It foretells the one who would be raised up as a prophet like Moses and who would speak in Jehovah’s name, one to whom all must be subject.—18:18, 19.
Bible Book Number 5—DeuteronomyWriter: Moses
Place Written: Plains of Moab
Writing Completed: 1473 B.C.E.
Time Covered: 2 months (1473 B.C.E.)
THE book of Deuteronomy contains a dynamic message for Jehovah’s people. After wandering in the wilderness for 40 years, the sons of Israel now stood on the threshold of the Land of Promise. What lay ahead of them? What were the peculiar problems that they would face on the other side of the Jordan? What would Moses finally have to say to the nation? We may also ask, Why is it beneficial for us today to know the answers to these questions?
2 The answers are to be found in the words that Moses spoke and that he recorded in the fifth book of the Bible, Deuteronomy. Though it restates much from the earlier books, Deuteronomy is important in its own outstanding way. Why so? It adds emphasis to the divine message, being provided at a time in the history of Jehovah’s people when they really needed dynamic leadership and positive direction. They were about to enter the Promised Land under a new leader. They needed encouragement to go forward, and at the same time they needed divine warning to enable them to take the right course leading to Jehovah’s blessing.
3 In accord with the need, Moses was moved mightily by Jehovah’s spirit to make a forthright appeal to Israel to be obedient and faithful. Throughout the entire book, he emphasizes that Jehovah is the Most High God, who exacts exclusive devotion and who desires his people to ‘love him with all their heart and all their soul and all their vital force.’ He is “the God of gods and the Lord of lords, the God great, mighty and fear-inspiring, who treats none with partiality nor accepts a bribe.” He tolerates no rivalry. To obey him means life, to disobey, death. Jehovah’s instruction, as given in Deuteronomy, was just the preparation and counsel that Israel needed for the momentous tasks that lay ahead of them. It is also the kind of admonition we need today so that we may keep walking in the fear of Jehovah, sanctifying his name in the midst of a corrupt world.—Deut. 5:9, 10; 6:4-6; 10:12-22.
4 The name Deuteronomy comes from the title in the Greek Septuagint translation, Deu•te•ro•no′mi•on, which combines deu′te•ros, meaning “second,” with no′mos, meaning “law.” It therefore means “Second Law; Repetition of the Law.” This comes from the Greek rendering of the Hebrew phrase in Deuteronomy 17:18, mish•neh′ hat•toh•rah′, correctly rendered ‘copy of the law.’ Despite the meaning of the name Deuteronomy, however, this Bible book is not a second law nor a mere repetition of the Law. Instead, it is an explanation of the Law, exhorting Israel to love and obey Jehovah in the Promised Land that they would soon be entering.—1:5.
5 This being the fifth roll, or volume, of the Pentateuch, the writer must have been the same as for the preceding four books, namely, Moses. The opening statement identifies Deuteronomy as “the words that Moses spoke to all Israel,” and later expressions, such as “Moses wrote this law” and “Moses wrote this song,” clearly prove his writership. His name appears nearly 40 times in the book, usually as authority for the statements made. The first person, referring to Moses, is used predominantly throughout. The closing verses were added after Moses’ death, most likely by Joshua or by Eleazar the high priest.—1:1; 31:9, 22, 24-26.
6 When did the events of Deuteronomy take place? At the outset, the book itself states that “in the fortieth year, in the eleventh month, on the first of the month, Moses spoke to the sons of Israel.” On completion of the record in Deuteronomy, the book of Joshua takes up the account three days before the crossing of the Jordan, which was “on the tenth of the first month.” (Deut. 1:3; Josh. 1:11; 4:19) This leaves a period of two months and one week for the events of Deuteronomy. However, 30 days of this nine-week period were spent mourning the death of Moses. (Deut. 34:8) This means that practically all the events of Deuteronomy must have occurred in the 11th month of the 40th year. By the close of that month, the writing of the book must also have been practically complete, with Moses’ death coming early in the 12th month of the 40th year, or early in 1473 B.C.E.
7 The proofs already submitted for the authenticity of the first four books of the Pentateuch hold also for Deuteronomy, the fifth book. It is also one of the four books in the Hebrew Scriptures most often cited in the Christian Greek Scriptures, the others being Genesis, Psalms, and Isaiah. There are 83 of these citations, and only six of the books in the Christian Greek Scriptures omit alluding to Deuteronomy.
8 Jesus himself gives the strongest testimony in support of Deuteronomy. At the outset of his ministry, he was three times tempted by the Devil, and three times he came back with the answer, “It is written.” Written where? Why, in the book of Deuteronomy (8:3; 6:16, 13), which Jesus quoted as his inspired authority: “Man must live, not on bread alone, but on every utterance coming forth through Jehovah’s mouth.” “You must not put Jehovah your God to the test.” “It is Jehovah your God you must worship, and it is to him alone you must render sacred service.” (Matt. 4:1-11) Later, when the Pharisees came testing him with regard to God’s commandments, Jesus quoted in reply “the greatest and first commandment” from Deuteronomy 6:5. (Matt. 22:37, 38; Mark 12:30; Luke 10:27) Jesus’ testimony conclusively stamps Deuteronomy as authentic.
9 Moreover, the events and statements in the book fit exactly the historical situation and surroundings. The references to Egypt, Canaan, Amalek, Ammon, Moab, and Edom are faithful to the times, and place-names are accurately stated. Archaeology continues to bring to light proof upon proof as to the integrity of Moses’ writings. Henry H. Halley writes: “Archaeology has been speaking so loudly of late that it is causing a decided reaction toward the conservative view [that Moses wrote the Pentateuch]. The theory that writing was unknown in Moses’ day is absolutely exploded. And every year there are being dug up in Egypt, Palestine and Mesopotamia, evidences, both in inscriptions and earth layers, that the narratives of the [Hebrew Scriptures] are true historical records. And ‘scholarship’ is coming to have decidedly more respect for the tradition of Mosaic authorship.” Thus, even external evidence supports Deuteronomy, as well as the rest of the Pentateuch, as being a genuine, authentic record made by God’s prophet Moses.
Deuteronomy ‒ Overview and structure
CONTENTS OF DEUTERONOMY10 The book is mainly composed of a series of discourses that Moses delivered to the sons of Israel on the Plains of Moab opposite Jericho. The first of these concludes in chapter 4, the second runs to the end of chapter 26, the third continues through chapter 28, and another discourse extends to the end of chapter 30. Then, after Moses makes final arrangements in view of his approaching death, including the commissioning of Joshua as his successor, he records a most beautiful song to Jehovah’s praise, followed by a blessing on the tribes of Israel.
11 Moses’ first discourse (1:1–4:49). This provides a historical introduction to what follows. Moses first reviews Jehovah’s faithful dealings with His people. Moses is telling them to go in and take possession of the land promised to their forefathers Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. He recounts how Jehovah coordinated the activity of this theocratic community at the outset of the wilderness trek by having him, Moses, select wise, discreet, and experienced men to act as chiefs of thousands, of hundreds, of fifties, and of tens. There was splendid organization, watched over by Jehovah, as Israel “went marching through all that great and fear-inspiring wilderness.”—1:19.
12 Moses now recalls their sin of rebellion when they heard the report of the spies returning from Canaan and complained that Jehovah hated them because, they charged, He had brought them up out of Egypt only to abandon them to the Amorites. For their lack of faith, Jehovah told that evil generation that none of them, except Caleb and Joshua, would see the good land. At this they again behaved rebelliously, getting all heated up and making their own independent assault on the enemy, only to have the Amorites chase them like a swarm of bees and scatter them.
13 They traveled in the wilderness down toward the Red Sea, and during 38 years, all the generation of the men of war died off. Jehovah then commanded them to cross over and take possession of the land north of the Arnon, saying: “This day I shall start to put the dread of you and the fear of you before the peoples beneath all the heavens, who will hear the report about you; and they will indeed be agitated and have pains like those of childbirth because of you.” (2:25) Sihon and his land fell to the Israelites, and then Og’s kingdom was occupied. Moses assured Joshua that Jehovah would fight for Israel in the same way in overcoming all the kingdoms. Moses then asked God if he himself might by any means pass over to the good land beyond the Jordan, but Jehovah continued to refuse this, telling him to commission, encourage, and strengthen Joshua.
14 Moses now lays great emphasis on God’s Law, warning against adding to or taking away from His commandments. Disobedience will bring disaster: “Only watch out for yourself and take good care of your soul, that you may not forget the things that your eyes have seen and that they may not depart from your heart all the days of your life; and you must make them known to your sons and to your grandsons.” (4:9) They saw no form when Jehovah stated the Ten Words to them under fearsome circumstances in Horeb. It will be ruination to them if they now turn to idolatry and image worship, for, as Moses says, “Jehovah your God is a consuming fire, a God exacting exclusive devotion.” (4:24) He it was who had loved their forefathers and had chosen them. There is no other God in the heavens above or on the earth beneath. Obey Him, Moses exhorts, “that you may lengthen your days on the soil that Jehovah your God is giving you, always.”—4:40.
15 After concluding this powerful speech, Moses proceeds to set apart Bezer, Ramoth, and Golan as cities of refuge to the east of the Jordan.
16 Moses’ second discourse (5:1–26:19). This is a call to Israel to hear Jehovah, who spoke with them face-to-face at Sinai. Note how Moses restates the Law with some necessary adjustments, thus adapting it for their new life across the Jordan. It is no mere recounting of regulations and ordinances. Every word shows that the heart of Moses is full of zeal and devotion to his God. He speaks for the welfare of the nation. Obedience to the Law is stressed throughout—obedience from a loving heart, not by compulsion.
17 First, Moses repeats the Ten Words, the Ten Commandments, and tells Israel to obey them, not turning to the right or to the left, that they may lengthen their days in the land and that they may become very many. “Listen, O Israel: Jehovah our God is one Jehovah.” (6:4) Heart, soul, and vital force must be given to loving Him, and Israel must teach their sons and tell them of the great signs and miracles that Jehovah performed in Egypt. There are to be no marriage alliances with the idolatrous Canaanites. Jehovah has chosen Israel to become his special property, not because they are populous, but because he loves them and will keep the sworn statement he made with their forefathers. Israel must shun the snare of demon religion, destroy the images out of the land, and hold to Jehovah, truly “a great and fear-inspiring God.”—7:21.
18 Jehovah humbled them for 40 years in the wilderness, teaching them that man lives, not by manna or bread, but by every expression of Jehovah’s mouth. During all those years of correction, their clothing did not wear out, nor did their feet become swollen. Now they are about to enter a land of wealth and plenty! However, they must guard against the snares of materialism and self-righteousness and remember that Jehovah is ‘the giver of power to make wealth’ and the dispossessor of the wicked nations. (8:18) Moses then recounts occasions when Israel provoked God. They must remember how Jehovah’s anger blazed against them in the wilderness, with plague and fire and slaughter! They must remember their ruinous worship of the golden calf, which resulted in Jehovah’s hot anger and the remaking of the tablets of the Law! (Ex. 32:1-10, 35; 17:2-7; Num. 11:1-3, 31-35; 14:2-38) Surely they must now serve and cling to Jehovah, who has loved them for their fathers’ sakes and had constituted them “like the stars of the heavens for multitude.”—Deut. 10:22.
19 Israel must keep “the whole commandment,” and they must without fail obey Jehovah, loving him as their God and serving him with all their heart and all their soul. (11:8, 13) Jehovah will back them up and reward them if they obey him. However, they must apply themselves and diligently teach their sons. The choice before Israel is clearly stated: Obedience leads to blessing, disobedience to malediction. They must not “walk after other gods.” (11:26-28) Moses then outlines specific laws affecting Israel as they move in to take possession of the Land of Promise. There are (1) laws touching religion and worship; (2) laws relating to administration of justice, government, and war; and (3) laws regulating the private and social life of the people.
20 (1) Religion and worship (12:1–16:17). When the Israelites enter the land, every vestige of false religion—its high places, altars, pillars, sacred poles, and images—must be absolutely destroyed. Israel must worship only in the place where Jehovah their God chooses to put his name, and there they must rejoice in him, all of them. Regulations on the eating of meat and sacrifices include repeated reminders that they must not eat blood. “Simply be firmly resolved not to eat the blood . . . You must not eat it, in order that it may go well with you and your sons after you, because you will do what is right in Jehovah’s eyes.” (12:16, 23-25, 27; 15:23) Moses now launches into an outspoken condemnation of idolatry. Israel must not even inquire into the ways of false religion. If a prophet is proved to be false, he must be put to death, and apostates—even one’s dear relative or friend, yes, even entire cities—must likewise be devoted to destruction. Next come regulations on clean and unclean food, the payment of tenths, and the care of the Levites. The interests of debtors, the poor, and bond slaves are to be lovingly protected. Finally, Moses reviews the annual festivals as times to thank Jehovah for his blessing: “Three times in the year every male of yours should appear before Jehovah your God in the place that he will choose: in the festival of the unfermented cakes and in the festival of weeks and in the festival of booths, and none should appear before Jehovah empty-handed.”—16:16.
21 (2) Justice, government, and war (16:18–20:20). First of all, Moses gives the laws affecting judges and officers. Justice is the important thing, bribes and perverted judgment being hateful to Jehovah. The procedures in establishing evidence and handling legal cases are outlined. “At the mouth of two witnesses or of three witnesses the one dying should be put to death.” (17:6) Laws are stated concerning kings. Provision is made for the priests and Levites. Spiritism is outlawed as “detestable to Jehovah.” (18:12) Looking far into the future, Moses declares: “A prophet from your own midst, from your brothers, like me, is what Jehovah your God will raise up for you—to him you people should listen.” (18:15-19) However, a false prophet must die. This section closes with laws concerning cities of refuge and the avenging of blood, as well as qualifications for military exemptions and the rules of war.
22 (3) Private and social life (21:1–26:19). Laws touching the everyday life of the Israelites are set forth on such matters as a person found slain, marriage to captive women, the right of the firstborn, a rebellious son, the hanging of a criminal on a stake, evidence of virginity, sex crimes, castration, illegitimate sons, treatment of foreigners, sanitation, payment of interest and vows, divorce, kidnapping, loans, wages, and harvest gleanings. The limit for beating a man is to be 40 strokes. A bull must not be muzzled while threshing. The procedure for brother-in-law marriage is outlined. Accurate weights must be used, for injustice is detestable to Jehovah.
23 Before concluding this fervent discourse, Moses recalls how Amalek struck the weary Israelites from the rear as they fled from Egypt, and Moses commands Israel to “wipe out the mention of Amalek from under the heavens.” (25:19) When they enter into the land, they must offer the firstfruits of the soil with rejoicing, and they must also offer the tithes with the thankful prayer to Jehovah: “Do look down from your holy dwelling, the heavens, and bless your people Israel and the soil that you have given us, just as you swore to our forefathers, the land flowing with milk and honey.” (26:15) If they carry out these commandments with all their heart and soul, Jehovah, on his part, will ‘put them high above all the other nations that he has made, resulting in praise and reputation and beauty, while they prove themselves a people holy to Jehovah their God, just as he has promised.’—26:19.
24 Moses’ third discourse (27:1–28:68). In this the older men of Israel and the priests are associated with Moses as he recites at length Jehovah’s curses for disobedience and the blessings for faithfulness. Dire warnings are given concerning the fearful results of unfaithfulness. If Israel as his holy people keep listening to the voice of Jehovah their God, they will enjoy wonderful blessings, and all the peoples of the earth will see that Jehovah’s name is called upon them. However, if they fail in this, Jehovah will send upon them “the curse, confusion and rebuke.” (28:20) They will be stricken by loathsome disease, by drought, and by famine; their enemies will pursue and enslave them, and they will be scattered and annihilated out of the land. These curses, and more, will come upon them if they “will not take care to carry out all the words of this law that are written in this book so as to fear this glorious and fear-inspiring name, even Jehovah, [their] God.”—28:58.
25 Moses’ fourth discourse (29:1–30:20). Jehovah now concludes a covenant with Israel at Moab. This incorporates the Law, as restated and explained by Moses, that will guide Israel as they enter the Land of Promise. The solemn oath accompanying the covenant drives home the nation’s responsibilities. Finally, Moses calls the heavens and the earth to witness as he places before the people life and death, the blessing and the malediction, and exhorts: “You must choose life in order that you may keep alive, you and your offspring, by loving Jehovah your God, by listening to his voice and by sticking to him; for he is your life and the length of your days, that you may dwell upon the ground that Jehovah swore to your forefathers Abraham, Isaac and Jacob to give to them.”—30:19, 20.
26 Commissioning of Joshua, and Moses’ song (31:1–32:47). Chapter 31 relates how, after writing the Law and giving instructions concerning the regular public reading of it, Moses commissions Joshua, telling him to be courageous and strong, and then how Moses prepares a memorial song and completes the writing of the words of the Law and arranges for it to be placed at the side of the ark of the covenant of Jehovah. After that, Moses speaks the words of the song to all the congregation as a final exhortation.
27 How appreciatively does Moses’ song open, identifying the refreshing Source of his instruction! “My instruction will drip as the rain, my saying will trickle as the dew, as gentle rains upon grass and as copious showers upon vegetation. For I shall declare the name of Jehovah.” Yes, attribute greatness to “our God,” “the Rock.” (32:2-4) Make known his perfect activity, his just ways, and his faithfulness, righteousness, and uprightness. It was shameful that Israel acted ruinously, though Jehovah encircled them in an empty, howling desert, safeguarding them as the pupil of his eye and hovering over them as an eagle over its fledglings. He made his people fat, calling them Jeshurun, “Upright One,” but they incited him to jealousy with strange gods and became “sons in whom there is no faithfulness.” (32:20) Vengeance and retribution are Jehovah’s. He puts to death and makes alive. When he sharpens his glittering sword and his hand takes hold on judgment, he will indeed pay back vengeance to his adversaries. What confidence this should inspire in his people! As the song says in climax, it is a time to “be glad, you nations, with his people.” (32:43) What worldly poet could ever approach the exalted beauty, power, and depth of meaning of this song to Jehovah?
28 Moses’ final blessing (32:48–34:12). Moses is now given final instructions concerning his death, but he is not yet through with his theocratic service. First, he must bless Israel, and in doing this, he again extols Jehovah, the King in Jeshurun, as beaming forth with his holy myriads. By name the tribes receive individual blessings, and then Moses praises Jehovah as the eminent One: “A hiding place is the God of ancient time, and underneath are the indefinitely lasting arms.” (33:27) From a heart brimming with appreciation, he then speaks his final words to the nation: “Happy you are, O Israel! Who is there like you, a people enjoying salvation in Jehovah?”—33:29.
29 After viewing the Land of Promise from Mount Nebo, Moses dies, and Jehovah buries him in Moab, his tomb being unknown and unhonored to this day. He lived to be 120 years of age, but “his eye had not grown dim, and his vital strength had not fled.” Jehovah had used him to perform great signs and miracles, and as the final chapter reports, there had not yet “risen up a prophet in Israel like Moses, whom Jehovah knew face to face.”—34:7, 10.
[Box on page 619]
HIGHLIGHTS OF DEUTERONOMYDiscourses explaining portions of the Law and exhorting Israel to love and obey Jehovah in the land that they were about to enter
Written by Moses just before Israel entered the Promised Land in 1473 B.C.E.
Exhortation to remember what Jehovah has done and to serve only him (1:1–4:49)
Moses recalls the sending out of spies, the faithless and rebellious response to their report, Jehovah’s oath that that generation would die in the wilderness
Israel was not to molest the sons of Esau (descended from Jacob’s brother) or Moab and Ammon (offspring of Abraham’s nephew Lot); but Jehovah gave Israel the land held by Amorite Kings Sihon and Og, E of the Jordan
Moses begs Jehovah to let him cross the Jordan; instead, Jehovah tells him to commission and strengthen Joshua to lead the nation
Moses reminds nation of Jehovah’s burning anger regarding Baal of Peor; must not forget what they witnessed in Horeb, never make a carved image for worship; Jehovah, the only true God, exacts exclusive devotion
Admonition to love Jehovah and to obey all of his commandments (5:1–26:19)
Moses recounts giving of the Law at Horeb, restates the Ten Words, urges Israel to do just as Jehovah commanded
Must love Jehovah with all one’s heart, soul, and vital force; God’s commands to be kept constantly before them; should explain to their sons the reason for Jehovah’s regulations
Seven nations to be destroyed out of the land, along with their altars and images; no marriage alliances with them
Should not forget how God dealt with them in the wilderness so as to make them know that man lives not by bread alone but by every expression of Jehovah’s mouth
Must remember how they provoked Jehovah by making molten calf; now should fear, serve, and cling to him; keep the whole commandment
Regulations to be obeyed in Promised Land: Wipe out false religion of Canaan; worship at the place that Jehovah chooses; do not eat blood; put apostates to death; eat clean food; give tenth of produce to Jehovah; show consideration for the poor; keep annual festivals; pursue justice; shun spiritism; listen to the one Jehovah raises up as prophet; respect boundary marks; keep land clean from bloodguilt; show compassion; keep clean from sexual immorality; give the firstfruits of the land to Jehovah; prove holy to Jehovah
Blessings for obeying Jehovah, curses for disobedience (27:1–28:68)
After nation crosses the Jordan, the Law is to be written on great stones
Cursings for disobedience to be pronounced on Mount Ebal
Blessings for obedience to all of Jehovah’s commands to be pronounced on Mount Gerizim
Covenant made on Plains of Moab (29:1–30:20)
Recounts Jehovah’s care in Egypt and during Israel’s 40 years in the wilderness; warns against stubborn disobedience
Foretells Jehovah’s mercy for those repenting
Sets before them choice between life and death; urges them to choose life by loving Jehovah, listening to his voice, and sticking to him
Transfer of leadership to Joshua, and Moses’ final blessings (31:1–34:12)
Joshua is commissioned to lead Israel
Moses teaches Israel a song that will be a witness against them when they forsake Jehovah
Moses blesses the tribes of Israel, then he dies on Mount Nebo
Highlights of Deuteronomy
*** w04 9/15 Highlights From the Book of Deuteronomy ***
Jehovah’s Word Is Alive
Highlights From the Book of DeuteronomyTHE year is 1473 B.C.E. Forty years have passed since Jehovah delivered the sons of Israel from Egyptian bondage. Having spent these years in the wilderness, the Israelites are still a nation without a land. At last, though, they stand at the threshold of the Promised Land. What awaits them as they take possession of it? What problems will they encounter, and how should they deal with them?
Before Israel crosses the Jordan River into the land of Canaan, Moses prepares the congregation for the great task ahead. How? By delivering a series of discourses that encourage and exhort, admonish and warn. He reminds the Israelites that Jehovah God deserves exclusive devotion and that they must not follow the ways of the surrounding nations. These speeches make up the main part of the Bible book of Deuteronomy. And the counsel given in them is just what we need today, for we too live in a world in which giving Jehovah our exclusive devotion is a challenge.—Hebrews 4:12.
Written by Moses except for the last chapter, the book of Deuteronomy covers a period of a little over two months. (Deuteronomy 1:3; Joshua 4:19) Let us see how what is stated there can help us to love Jehovah God with all our heart and serve him faithfully.
‘DO NOT FORGET WHAT YOUR EYES HAVE SEEN’
In the first discourse, Moses recounts some of the wilderness experiences—particularly those that will be helpful to the Israelites as they prepare to take possession of the Promised Land. The account of the appointment of judges must have reminded them that Jehovah organizes his people in a way that ensures loving care. Moses also relates that the bad report of the ten spies led to the failure of the preceding generation to enter the land of promise. Think of the impact this warning example must have had on Moses’ listeners as that land lay before their very eyes.
Recalling the victories that Jehovah had given the sons of Israel before they crossed the Jordan must have infused them with courage as they stood ready to begin their conquest on the other side of the river. The land they were about to occupy was rife with idolatry. How fitting that Moses gives a stern warning against idol worship!
Scriptural Questions Answered:
2:4-6, 9, 19, 24, 31-35; 3:1-6—Why did the Israelites annihilate some of the people who lived east of the Jordan but not others? Jehovah commanded Israel not to engage in strife with the sons of Esau. Why? Because they were the offspring of Jacob’s brother. The Israelites were not to molest or war against the Moabites and the Ammonites, for they were descendants of Abraham’s nephew Lot. However, the Amorite Kings Sihon and Og had no such claims to the land under their control. Hence, when Sihon refused to let the Israelites pass through and Og came to meet them in battle, Jehovah commanded the Israelites to demolish their cities, leaving no survivors.
4:15-20, 23, 24—Does the prohibition against making carved images mean that it is wrong to make representations of objects for artistic purposes? No. The prohibition here was against making images for worship—against ‘bowing down to idols and serving them.’ The Scriptures do not forbid carving sculptures or making paintings of objects for artistic purposes.—1 Kings 7:18, 25.
Lessons for Us:
1:2, 19. The sons of Israel wandered through the wilderness for some 38 years, even though Kadesh-barnea was only “eleven days from Horeb [the mountainous region around Mount Sinai where the Ten Commandments were given] by the way of Mount Seir.” What a price to pay for disobeying Jehovah God!—Numbers 14:26-34.
1:16, 17. God’s standards of judging are the same today. Those entrusted with the responsibility to serve on a judicial committee must not allow favoritism or fear of man to distort their judgment.
4:9. ‘Not forgetting the things that their eyes had seen’ was essential for Israel’s success. As the promised new world nears, it is vital that we too keep in front of us Jehovah’s wonderful deeds by being diligent students of his Word.
LOVE JEHOVAH, AND OBEY HIS COMMANDMENTS
In his second speech, Moses recounts the giving of the Law at Mount Sinai and restates the Ten Commandments. Seven nations are specified for complete destruction. The sons of Israel are reminded of an important lesson they learned in the wilderness: “Not by bread alone does man live but by every expression of Jehovah’s mouth does man live.” In their new situation, they must “keep the whole commandment.”—Deuteronomy 8:3; 11:8.
As they settle in the land of promise, the Israelites will need laws not only regarding worship but also respecting judgment, government, war, and everyday social and private life. Moses reviews these laws and emphasizes the need to love Jehovah and obey his commandments.
Scriptural Questions Answered:
8:3, 4—In what way did the Israelites’ clothing not wear out and their feet not become swollen during the wilderness trek? This was a miraculous provision, as was the regular supply of manna. The Israelites used the same garments and footwear they started out with, likely passing them on to others as children grew up and adults died. Since the two censuses taken at the beginning and at the end of the wilderness trek revealed that the number of Israelites did not increase, the original supply of these items would have been sufficient.—Numbers 2:32; 26:51.
14:21—Why could the Israelites give to an alien resident or sell to a foreigner an unbled dead animal that they themselves would not eat? In the Bible, the term “alien resident” could refer to a non-Israelite who became a proselyte or to a settler who lived by basic laws of the land but who did not become a worshiper of Jehovah. A foreigner and an alien resident who did not become proselytes were not under the Law and could use unbled dead animals in various ways. The Israelites were permitted to give or sell such animals to them. The proselyte, on the other hand, was bound by the Law covenant. As indicated at Leviticus 17:10, such a person was forbidden to eat the blood of an animal.
24:6—Why was seizing “a hand mill or its upper grindstone as a pledge” likened to seizing “a soul”? A hand mill and its upper grindstone represented a person’s “soul,” or his means of life. Seizing either of these would deprive the entire family of its daily supply of bread.
25:9—What is significant about drawing the sandal off and spitting in the face of a man who refused to perform brother-in-law marriage? According to “the custom of former times in Israel concerning the right of repurchase . . . , a man had to draw his sandal off and give it to his fellow.” (Ruth 4:7) Drawing the sandal off a man who refused to perform brother-in-law marriage therefore confirmed that he had renounced his position and right to produce an heir for his deceased brother. This was disgraceful. (Deuteronomy 25:10) Spitting in his face was an act of humiliation.—Numbers 12:14.
Lessons for Us:
6:6-9. Just as the Israelites were commanded with respect to the Law, we too must know God’s commands by heart, keep them in front of us at all times, and inculcate them in our children. We must ‘tie them as a sign upon our hand’ in that our actions—represented by our hands—must show that we are obedient to Jehovah. And like ‘a frontlet band between the eyes,’ our obedience must be visible to all.
6:16. May we never put Jehovah to the test as the Israelites faithlessly did at Massah, where they murmured about the lack of water.—Exodus 17:1-7.
8:11-18. Materialism can make us forget Jehovah.
9:4-6. We must guard against self-righteousness.
13:6. We must not allow anyone to draw us away from the worship of Jehovah.
14:1. Self-mutilation shows disrespect for the human body, may be connected with false religion, and must be avoided. (1 Kings 18:25-28) Our hope in the resurrection makes such an extreme expression of mourning for the dead inappropriate.
20:5-7; 24:5. Consideration should be shown to those with special circumstances, even when the task at hand is important.
22:23-27. One of the most effective defenses a woman has when she is threatened with rape is to scream.
“YOU MUST CHOOSE LIFE”
In his third speech, Moses states that after crossing the Jordan, the Israelites must write the Law on great stones and also pronounce cursings for disobedience and blessings for obedience. The fourth discourse opens with the renewal of the covenant between Jehovah and Israel. Moses again warns against disobedience and exhorts the people to “choose life.”—Deuteronomy 30:19.
In addition to giving the four discourses, Moses discusses the change of leadership and teaches the Israelites a beautiful song that praises Jehovah and warns of the woes resulting from unfaithfulness. After blessing the tribes, Moses dies at the age of 120 and is buried. The mourning period lasts 30 days, taking up nearly half of the time covered by Deuteronomy.
Scriptural Questions Answered:
32:13, 14—Since the Israelites were forbidden to eat any fat, what is meant by their eating “the fat of rams”? The expression is here used figuratively and denotes the best of the flock. Such poetic usage is indicated by the fact that the same verse speaks of “the kidney fat of wheat” and “the blood of the grape.”
33:1-29—Why was Simeon not specifically mentioned in the blessing with which Moses blessed the sons of Israel? This was because Simeon as well as Levi had acted “harshly,” and their anger was “cruel.” (Genesis 34:13-31; 49:5-7) Their inheritance was not quite the same as that of the other tribes. Levi received 48 cities, and Simeon’s portion was within Judah’s territory. (Joshua 19:9; 21:41, 42) Hence, Moses did not specifically bless Simeon. However, Simeon’s blessing was included in the general blessing to Israel.
Lessons for Us:
31:12. Young ones should sit with the grown-ups at congregation meetings and endeavor to listen and to learn.
32:4. All of Jehovah’s activities are perfect in that he expresses his attributes of justice, wisdom, love, and power in perfect balance.
Of Great Value to Us
Deuteronomy presents Jehovah as “one Jehovah.” (Deuteronomy 6:4) It is a book about a people in a unique relationship with God. The book of Deuteronomy also warns against idolatry and emphasizes the need to give the true God exclusive devotion.
Surely Deuteronomy is of great value to us! Though we are not under the Law, we can learn much from it that will help us to ‘love Jehovah our God with all our heart, soul, and vital force.’—Deuteronomy 6:5.
The last chapter, containing the record of the death of Moses, may have been added by Joshua or by High Priest Eleazar.
*** w84 7/15 pp. 22-25 Deuteronomy Exhorts Us to Serve Jehovah With Heartfelt Joy ***
Deuteronomy Exhorts Us to Serve Jehovah With Heartfelt JoyJEHOVAH’S worshipers must serve him faithfully and with heartfelt joy. This the Bible book of Deuteronomy makes clear. (Deuteronomy 28:45-47) And its exhortation to such faithful, joyous service has great import in the lives of 20th-century witnesses of Jehovah.
Deuteronomy was written by the Hebrew prophet Moses on the plains of Moab in 1473 B.C.E. and covers somewhat over two months. Likely, the last chapter was added by Joshua or High Priest Eleazar. Deuteronomy consists of four discourses, as well as a song and a blessing by Moses when Israel was about to enter the Promised Land. (Deuteronomy 1:3; Joshua 1:11; 4:19) In Deuteronomy Moses explained and elaborated on certain points of the Law. Among other things, the book shows that Jehovah demands exclusive devotion. It also warns against false worship and exhorts God’s people to be faithful in his sacred service.
Yet, in what specific ways did the words recorded in Deuteronomy help the Israelites? And how can this book benefit Jehovah’s Witnesses today?
The Israelites have been in the wilderness for about 40 years when Moses now addresses them. In part, he recounts the appointment of judges to assist him. He cites the ten spies’ bad report that led to rebellion and wilderness wanderings. Recalled, too, are victories God made possible. Moses warns against idol making and underscores this by declaring: “Jehovah your God is a consuming fire, a God exacting exclusive devotion.” This is followed by exhortation to obey Jehovah.—Deuteronomy 1:1–4:49.
In a second discourse, Moses first restates the Ten Words and recounts the giving of the Law. Emphasis is laid on loving Jehovah with all the heart, soul and vital force. Child instruction is highlighted. Seven nations of Canaan and their appendages of false worship are designated for destruction. The Israelites are told that they were chosen not because of their righteousness but due to Jehovah’s faithfulness as a covenant keeper. Once in the Promised Land, they must remain obedient and not forget God. Cases of disobedience are reviewed, and heartfelt love and fear of God are shown to be essential. Blessings and maledictions are set before Israel, and obedience to God is urged.—Deuteronomy 5:1–11:32.
Cited next are laws affecting life in the Promised Land. Among these are regulations on destroying vestiges of unclean religion, eating meat and handling blood, dealing with false prophets and apostasy, clean and unclean foods, and tithing. Details are provided on debt releases, slavery and firstborn animals. The three annual festivals are considered, as are certain judicial matters and laws for kings and Levites. After warnings against spiritism, a prophet like Moses is foretold.—Deuteronomy 12:1–18:22.
Among further regulations mentioned are those concerning refuge cities, military exemptions, cleansing from bloodguilt, the marrying of captive women, the firstborn’s right, rebellious sons, regard for others’ property and for life, sexual matters, and ineligibility for membership in the congregation. Still other laws include those dealing with slaves, interest payments and vows. Regulations on such matters as divorce, loans, kindness to the fatherless and to widows, brother-in-law marriage, accurate weights, the offering of firstfruits, and tithing bring this discourse to a close.—Deuteronomy 19:1–26:19.
Moses’ third discourse opens with instructions to write the Law on great stones. Blessings are to be pronounced from Mount Gerizim and maledictions from Mount Ebal. Blessings for obeying God’s commands are then contrasted with curses to be expected for disobedience.—Deuteronomy 27:1–28:68.
In connection with Moses’ fourth discourse, there is a renewal of the covenant between Jehovah and the Israelites. Moses recounts God’s care in the wilderness. Warning is given against disobedience, and Jehovah’s mercy is stressed. Finally, a life-or-death choice is presented. The people of Israel may ‘keep alive by loving Jehovah, listening to his voice and sticking to him.’—Deuteronomy 29:1–30:20.
Moses urges the Israelites to be courageous when entering the Promised Land, for Jehovah is marching with them. The commissioning of Joshua as leader is followed by a prophecy regarding Israel’s rebelliousness. Next, in song, Moses extols Jehovah, foretells woes for Israel’s unfaithfulness but ends with an assurance of divine vengeance coupled with the call, “Be glad, you nations, with his people.” Moses bestows final blessings, after which the 120-year-old prophet views the Land of Promise, dies and is buried by Jehovah in an unmarked grave.—Deuteronomy 31:1–34:12.
The foregoing résumé may well whet your spiritual appetite. But as you read Deuteronomy, significant questions may arise. Let us now anticipate and answer some of them.
Moses’ First Discourse
• 4:15-24—Do these words against image making mean that it is wrong to display photographs of individuals?
These verses prohibit the making of images for false worship. But the Israelites were not prohibited from making images for other purposes. For instance, there were God-approved likenesses of cherubs on the tabernacle tent cloths and on the cover of the sacred ark. It would be inappropriate to associate the usual taking and displaying of photographs with idolatry, unless they were deliberately used for false religious purposes. Normally, there is no Scriptural objection to photography, painting and sculpturing that serve useful or artistic purposes in depicting people or things.
Moses’ Second Discourse
• 6:6-9—Is this command to ‘tie God’s law upon the hand’ to be understood literally?
These verses do not support the practice of wearing phylacteries (small cases containing Bible texts). Rather, the wording points to a figurative application. (Compare Exodus 13:9; Proverbs 7:2, 3.) It is not said that the commands were to be written on something and then worn by a person or attached to doorposts and gates. The Israelites were to keep God’s commands in view at all times, whether they were at home, on the road or near the city gates, where elders handled legal cases. They were to retain God’s law in the heart, teach it to their children and demonstrate by action (as expressed by the hands) that they adhered to it. The people were to identify themselves publicly as upholders of Jehovah’s law, just as if it were written between their eyes for all to see. Similarly, Jehovah’s Witnesses today seek to prove themselves God’s obedient servants. Their hearts move them to obey his Word, and they fill their minds with things that are true, of serious concern, righteous, lovable, virtuous and praiseworthy. In every way they endeavor to show that Jehovah’s commands are before them at all times.—Philippians 4:8; Colossians 3:23.
• 8:3, 4—Does this mean only that the clothing supply was replenished?
The provision of the manna was a continuing miracle. So was the fact that the clothing did not wear out and their feet did not swell during the 40 years in the wilderness. If the clothing supply merely was renewed normally, that would have been no miracle. There would be no difficulty involved in using the same clothing for all those years, because children’s clothes could be passed on to younger ones, and wardrobes would become available for others as adults died. Since the number of the Israelites was nearly the same at the end of the wilderness trek as at the beginning, the original clothing supply would be about right throughout the 40 years.—Numbers 2:32; 26:51.
• 14:21—Since the Israelites could not eat “any body already dead,” why could it be given to an alien resident or sold to a foreigner?
As the Supreme Lawgiver, Jehovah had the right to place certain restrictions upon only the Israelites. They were “a holy people” to him. Other nations did not observe this prohibition against eating an animal that had died of itself. There was nothing unjust about giving an unbled carcass to an alien resident or selling it to a foreigner, for the Israelites did not misrepresent matters and the recipient or buyer acted voluntarily. It may be added that Deuteronomy 14:21 harmonizes with Leviticus 17:10, which forbade the alien resident to eat blood. An alien resident who was a proselyte was not to eat blood, but this prohibition did not apply to an alien resident who was not a full proselyte. Such a person might have uses for an unbled animal carcass viewed as unclean by a faithful Israelite or proselyte.
• 17:5-7—Why was it required that the hand of the witnesses should be first to come upon a person sentenced to death?
Everyone in Israel was to be zealous for true worship and anxious to see that the organization remained clean and that no reproach was brought upon Jehovah’s name. The witnesses were to show such zeal by taking the lead in carrying out the judgment. (Compare Numbers 25:6-9; Deuteronomy 13:6-11.) Of course, it was one thing to testify against someone and quite another to execute the individual. This would make a witness think very carefully in giving evidence, and only a wicked person would give false testimony knowing that he would be the first to act in putting the man or woman to death. Jehovah’s Witnesses can apply these principles by being zealous for the congregation’s cleanness and also very careful about giving truthful testimony. After all, each one of us must answer to the Supreme Judge, Jehovah.—Matthew 12:36, 37.
• 22:5—In view of this prohibition, is it proper for a woman to wear slacks?
The evident purpose of this law was to prevent sex abuses and confusion of sexual identity. In appearance and attire, normally a man wants to look like a male and a woman like a female. For an Israelite to act contrary to this internal sense of propriety could have led to homosexuality. Although both men and women then wore robelike garments, there was a difference between the garb of males and that of females. Similarly, in some parts of the earth today, both men and women wear slacks, though the styles differ for each sex. The principle in this text would not rule out a Christian woman’s wearing slacks sometimes, as when working around the house or on a farm. And according to local custom and necessity, slacks may be the desired attire in very cold climates. The Bible counsels women to “adorn themselves in well-arranged dress, with modesty and soundness of mind.”—1 Timothy 2:9, 10.
• 24:6—How could seizing a hand mill or its upper grindstone as a pledge be like seizing a soul?
Usually, bread was baked daily and grain frequently had to be ground into flour. So a family’s daily bread depended on the hand mill. Mercifully, then, God’s law forbade the seizing of a person’s hand mill or its upper grindstone. To seize either of these would result in depriving the family of its daily bread and would amount to seizing a “soul” or “means of life.”
Final Discourses, Song and Blessing
• 32:39—How can there be no gods together with Jehovah when John 1:1 says that ‘the Word was with God and was a god’?
These texts deal with completely different matters. The point made at Deuteronomy 32:39 is that false gods have no share with the true God, Jehovah, in his saving acts. They are unable to deliver their worshipers from disaster, and such gods were not with Jehovah in anything that he did. Although the “Word” is a god or a mighty one, he does not stand in opposition to Jehovah or act as his rival, as was the case with the false gods.—Deuteronomy 32:12, 37, 38.
• 33:1-29—Why is Simeon not mentioned in this blessing?
Simeon and Levi had cooperated in an act of cruelty, and although they were given portions in Israel, these were not like those of the other tribes. The Levites were given 48 cities throughout the land, whereas Simeon’s lot was enclosed within the territory of Judah. (Genesis 34:13-31; 49:5-7; Joshua 19:9; 21:41, 42) So when Moses turned his attention to Judah, he well knew that Simeon’s portion was included with it. Moreover, the tribe of Simeon came under the general blessing: “Happy you are, O Israel! Who is there like you, a people enjoying salvation in Jehovah?”—Deuteronomy 33:29.
Of Lasting Aid to Faithful Servants
Deuteronomy is of lasting benefit to Jehovah’s servants, and we can draw valuable instruction from it. For instance, during the invasion of Canaan, Joshua implicitly followed counsel now recorded in this book. Similarly, we should readily accept divine guidance. (Deuteronomy 20:15-18; 21:23; Joshua 8:24-29) Jesus Christ quoted from Deuteronomy in successfully resisting Satan. Like Jesus, we acknowledge that man must live on Jehovah’s utterances, that we are not to put God to the test and that we must render sacred service to him alone.—Matthew 4:1-11; Deuteronomy 5:9; 6:13, 16; 8:3.
This book identifies Jehovah as a God exacting exclusive devotion. (Deuteronomy 4:24; 6:15) It also declares: “You must love Jehovah your God with all your heart and all your soul and all your vital force.” (Deuteronomy 6:5) In essence, then, Deuteronomy exhorts us to serve Jehovah faithfully. May we, therefore, render sacred service to him with heartfelt joy.
*** w77 9/1 pp. 536-540 Deuteronomy—Moses’ Loving Farewell Discourses ***
Deuteronomy—Moses’ Loving Farewell DiscoursesWHEN forty years of age he tried in vain to be his people’s deliverer. At the age of eighty he was called by Jehovah God himself actually to deliver God’s people Israel from Egyptian bondage. Now, at the age of 120 years, he and his people were gathered on the plains of Moab, at the border of the Promised Land. Knowing that his end was near, this man Moses poured out his heart to his people in a series of discourses, in what came to be known as the book of Deuteronomy.—Deut. 31:2; Acts 7:23-30, 35, 36.
This fifth book of the Pentateuch received its name from the Greek Septuagint Version and is based on two Greek roots meaning “second” and “law.” Among the names given it by rabbis is Mishneh, meaning repetition. In some languages it is simply known as the “Fifth Book of Moses.”
Establishing the authenticity of Deuteronomy is the fact that Jesus repeatedly quoted from it as inspired Scripture. (Matt. 4:4, 7, 10 from Deut. 8:3; 6:16, 13; Mark 10:3-5 from Deut. 24:1-3; Mark 12:30 from Deut. 6:5) In fact, Deuteronomy is quoted more than eighty times in the Christian Greek Scriptures and is one of the four most quoted books, the others being Genesis, Psalms and Isaiah.
The book of Deuteronomy, however, is not what its popular name seems to imply, a mere restatement or repetition of God’s law to Israel. Rather, knowing that his end was near, Moses wanted to give parting admonition, counsel, exhortation, instruction to Jehovah’s people, coupled with warnings, saying all that he could and saying certain things repeatedly. It was as though he were penning a farewell letter to them because of his great love for them and his desire to do all that he could to help his people to continue in faithful obedience to their God Jehovah. As nineteenth-century Bible scholar Hengstenberg so well expressed it:
“He speaks like a dying father to his children. The words are earnest, inspired, impressive. He looks back over the whole of forty years of their wandering in the desert, reminds the people of all the blessings they have received, of the ingratitude with which they have so often repaid them, and of the judgments of God, and the love that continually broke forth behind them; he explains the laws again and again, and adds what is necessary to complete them, and is never weary of urging obedience to them in the warmest and most emphatic words, because the very life of the nation was bound up with this; he surveys all the storms and conflicts which they have passed through, and, beholding the future in the past, takes a survey also of the future history of the nation, and sees, with mingled sorrow and joy, how three great features of the past—viz. apostasy, punishment, and pardon—continue to repeat themselves in the future.”—The Pentateuch, Vol. 3, p. 276, Keil and Delitzsch.
MOSES’ HEARTFELT PLEAS
Typical of how strongly Moses felt about the Israelites’ keeping God’s laws previously stated is the way in which he words, in Deuteronomy, the prohibition not to eat blood: “Simply be firmly resolved not to eat the blood, because the blood is the soul and you must not eat the soul with the flesh. You must not eat it . . . You must not eat it.” Four times he states this prohibition.—Deut. 12:23-25.
Because Moses felt so strongly about matters we find him frequently repeating himself, even as the apostle John did in his first letter, as at 1 John 4:8, 16. For example, there are Moses’ urging parents to teach God’s law to their children when they sit, walk, lie down and get up (Deut. 6:7; 11:19), his reminding them that God gave them manna to humble them (Deut. 8:2, 3, 16) and his putting life and death before his people.—Deut. 30:15, 19.
It might be said that the discourses in the book of Deuteronomy are Moses’ “Sermon on the Mount.” Yes, the book of Deuteronomy is indeed “motivated by a desire to instruct such as we find in no other book of the” Hebrew Scriptures. And as we note the warmth, the earnestness, the heartfelt solicitude, the deep concern of Moses for his people, for their spiritual and their mundane well-being, as well as his two references to his regrets for not being permitted to enter the Promised Land, to what conclusion can we come? That absolutely no one other than Moses himself could have written such a moving document, that simply nobody could have feigned all that feeling. Yes, to charge, as many theologians in Christendom do, that Deuteronomy is a pious fraud is not only utterly baseless, it is preposterous!
MOSES’ FIRST DISCOURSE
Deuteronomy is generally considered to consist primarily of four discourses. The first takes in chapters one through four. In this discourse Moses recounts his appointing judges to aid him in judging the people and the instructions he gave them to judge without partiality. He also tells of the bad report of the spies and the rebellion it caused.
Next he recounts Israel’s travels from Mount Sinai to the plains of Moab, and reminds them of the victories that they won en route. In chapter four he admonishes his people not to forget God’s laws, that keeping these would make them famed for their wisdom. He also warns against their making idols, since they saw no representation on the day that Jehovah spoke to them at Mount Sinai. He underscores his warning with the words: “Jehovah your God is a consuming fire, a God exacting exclusive devotion.”—Deut. 4:24.
MOSES’ SECOND DISCOURSE
Moses’ second discourse covers chapters five through twenty-six. In it he exhorts obedience to a vast array of God’s laws, some of them previously given, such as those relating to the three annual festivals and the cities of refuge, and others stated here for the first time. He begins with a restatement of the Ten Commandments. Continuing, he stresses the importance of knowing Jehovah God and his laws, for man does not live by bread alone. Israelites were to place excerpts of the law on their doorposts; they were to inculcate God’s law in their children at all times, when walking, sitting or lying down. The priests were to teach the people God’s law, and the king himself was to make a copy of God’s law and read in it all the days of his life, so that he would keep humble and keep on doing what was right.—Deut. 6:7-9; 17:14-20.
Eight times in this second discourse Moses urges his people to faithfulness and obedience so that it might go well with them. Even more often Moses stresses the need for his people to love their God Jehovah: “Listen, O Israel: Jehovah our God is one Jehovah. And you must love Jehovah your God with all your heart and all your soul and all your vital force.” And time and again he reminds his people of Jehovah’s love for them; a fine expression of which is found at Deuteronomy 5:29: “If only they would develop this heart of theirs to fear me and to keep all my commandments always, in order that it might go well with them and their sons to time indefinite!”
Moses also felt so strongly about justice, that ever so often he urged the judges of God’s people to deal justly, impartially, never accepting bribes.—Deut. 1:16, 17 (first discourse); 16:18; 24:17; 25:1.
Moreover, Moses repeatedly commands his people to appreciate all their blessings and to show it by rejoicing before Jehovah. They were to “become nothing but joyful.” Yes, in a subsequent discourse he even warns that calamity would befall them to time indefinite “due to the fact that you did not serve Jehovah your God with rejoicing and joy.”—Deut. 16:11, 14, 15; 28:47.
Noting their tendency to worship other gods, Moses never wearies of warning them against apostasy and false prophets. Capital punishment was to be the penalty. One was not to spare members of one’s own family, and even whole cities were to be wiped out if guilty of turning to false gods.—Deut. 5:7; 6:14; 7:4; 8:19; 11:16; 13:1-18; 17:1-7; 18:20-22.
In spite of such stern warnings against apostasy, the loving consideration manifested in the legislation recorded in Deuteronomy is unique in the annals of jurisprudence. When mustering for war, an engaged man, a newly married man, or a man who had planted a vineyard or built a house and had not as yet had the opportunity to enjoy the fruits of his labor was excused from military service for a time. In some respects it might be said that much of Deuteronomy anticipates how injustices could take place, and it gives commands to prevent them from occurring.—Deut. 20:5-7; 24:5.
Even birds and animals were not overlooked. An Israelite coming upon a bird sitting upon her nest had to let the mother escape, although he could take the young. A farmer was not allowed to muzzle a bull that was threshing grain. When plowing, he could not yoke a donkey with a bull, for the disparity of strength would prove a hardship upon the weaker donkey.—Deut. 22:6-10; 25:4.
Moses in this discourse also warns against the Israelites becoming materialistic because of prosperity and against the sin of self-righteousness. To avoid the sin of apostasy they were not to intermarry with pagans. (Deut. 7:3, 4) Pointedly Moses sets before Israel the blessings and the curses depending upon the course that they would pursue. He also foretells the coming of a prophet like himself to whom the people would be required to listen on pain of death. The apostle Peter applied this prophecy to Jesus Christ.—Deut. 18:15-19; Acts 3:22, 23.
THE THIRD AND FOURTH DISCOURSES
In his third discourse Moses gives instruction regarding the blessings and the curses that the Levites are to pronounce publicly upon entering the Promised Land. Six tribes are to station themselves before Mount Gerizim and are to say “Amen!” to the Levites’ pronouncing Jehovah’s blessings upon those serving him faithfully and obeying his laws. And the other six tribes are to stand in front of Mount Ebal and say “Amen” to the Levites’ pronouncement of curses upon those who violate God’s laws regarding worship and morals. Not content with this enumeration Moses develops the theme of the blessings for right doing and the curses for disobedience still further. These blessings and curses proved to be prophetic.—Deut. 27:1 to 28:68.
The fourth appealing wilderness discourse by Moses (chapters 29 and 30) begins with his again recounting the miracles Jehovah God performed on their behalf, including the one that “your garments did not wear out upon you, and your sandal did not wear out upon your foot.” (Deut. 29:5) Moses then concludes a covenant between Jehovah God and his people assembled there and warns against the dire results of disobedience. However, he also tells that upon their repentance Jehovah would again restore them to favor, and so on the basis of this prophecy he puts before them the choice: “I do take the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you today, that I have put life and death before you, the blessing and the malediction; and you must choose life in order that you may keep alive, you and your offspring, by loving Jehovah your God, by listening to his voice and by sticking to him; for he is your life and the length of your days.”—Deut. 30:19, 20.
MOSES’ FINAL WORDS
Moses, now 120 years old, encourages his people in their going over the Jordan to take possession of the Promised Land. “Be courageous and strong. Do not be afraid or suffer a shock before them, because Jehovah your God is the one marching with you.” He encourages Joshua with similar words and then commands that every seventh year there should be an assembly at which God’s law is rehearsed in the hearing of men, women and little ones. Then follows a prophecy foretelling Israel’s rebelliousness, in view of the way they rebelled in the wilderness: “For I—I well know your rebelliousness and your stiff neck. If while I am yet alive with you today, you have proved rebellious in behavior toward Jehovah, then how much more so after my death!” In view of that prophecy, should it cause any Jew to wonder why his people in general failed to accept the greater Moses, Jesus Christ, their Messiah?—Deut. 31:1-30.
Next, Moses, by means of a superlative song, attributes greatness to Jehovah: “The Rock, perfect is his activity, for all his ways are justice. A God of faithfulness, with whom there is no injustice; righteous and upright is he.” He comments at length on his people’s wayward course, reminds them that vengeance belongs to Jehovah and then calls out, “Be glad, you nations, with his people.” Moses concludes by pronouncing a blessing upon all the tribes, with the exception of Simeon.—Deut. 32:1–33:29.
The book closes with the details of the death of Moses; most likely penned either by Joshua or Eleazar the high priest. Moses’ “eye had not grown dim, and his vital strength had not fled.” His people greatly mourned him for thirty days, for “there has never yet risen up a prophet in Israel like Moses, whom Jehovah knew face to face.”—Deut. 34:1-12.
Today Jehovah’s dedicated people are in a similar position to that of the Israelites on the plains of Moab. We therefore do well to take to heart the truths and admonition that Moses gave the Israelites. For one thing we always want to appreciate that man does not live on bread alone but on every word coming forth from Jehovah’s mouth. We know full well that Jehovah our God is one Jehovah and that we must love him with all our heart, soul and vital strength, for he is a God exacting exclusive devotion. Moreover, he is a God who is a consuming fire and to whom alone vengeance belongs. We also want to take comfort in the fact that all his activity is perfect and righteous. Truly, keeping his regulations means life, whereas disobedience means death.
Most gladly we rejoice in every undertaking of ours because of Jehovah’s goodness to us and call upon people of all the nations to rejoice with us. Well has it been observed: “Let the twentieth-century man place himself under the sovereignty of God in every area of his life and he will have begun to understand the import of the book of Deuteronomy.”
Deut. 6:4, 5; 10:12; 11:1, 13, 22; 13:3; 19:9; 30:6, 16, 20.
Deuteronomy ‒ Importance and benefits
WHY BENEFICIAL30 As the concluding book of the Pentateuch, Deuteronomy ties together all that has gone before in declaring and sanctifying the great name of Jehovah God. He alone is God, exacting exclusive devotion and tolerating no rivalry by demon gods of false religious worship. In this day, all Christians must give earnest attention to the great principles underlying God’s law and obey him so that they will be free of his curse as he sharpens his glittering sword for execution of vengeance on his adversaries. His greatest and first commandment must become the guidepost in their lives: “You must love Jehovah your God with all your heart and all your soul and all your vital force.”—6:5.
31 The rest of the Scriptures frequently refer to Deuteronomy to enrich appreciation for the divine purposes. In addition to his quotations in answering the Tempter, Jesus made many other references. (Deut. 5:16—Matt. 15:4; Deut. 17:6—Matt. 18:16 and John 8:17) These continue into Revelation, where the glorified Jesus finally warns against adding to or taking away from the scroll of Jehovah’s prophecy. (Deut. 4:2—Rev. 22:18) Peter quotes from Deuteronomy in clinching his powerful argument that Jesus is the Christ and the Prophet greater than Moses whom Jehovah promised to raise up in Israel. (Deut. 18:15-19—Acts 3:22, 23) Paul quotes from it with reference to rewards for workers, thorough investigation at the mouth of witnesses, and the instruction of children.—Deut. 25:4—1 Cor. 9:8-10 and 1 Tim. 5:17, 18; Deut. 13:14 and 19:15—1 Tim. 5:19 and 2 Cor. 13:1; Deut. 5:16—Eph. 6:2, 3.
32 Not only the writers of the Christian Scriptures but also God’s servants of pre-Christian times drew instruction and encouragement from Deuteronomy. We do well to follow their example. Consider the implicit obedience of Moses’ successor, Joshua, in devoting conquered cities to destruction during the invasion of Canaan, taking no spoil as did Achan. (Deut. 20:15-18 and 21:23—Josh. 8:24-27, 29) Gideon’s elimination of those “afraid and trembling” from his army was in obedience to the Law. (Deut. 20:1-9—Judg. 7:1-11) It was out of faithfulness to the law of Jehovah that the prophets in Israel and Judah spoke boldly and courageously in condemnation of backsliding nations. Amos provides an excellent example of this. (Deut. 24:12-15—Amos 2:6-8) Indeed, there are literally hundreds of examples tying Deuteronomy in with the rest of God’s Word, thus showing that it is an integral and beneficial part of the harmonious whole.
33 The very essence of Deuteronomy breathes praise to the Sovereign God, Jehovah. It stresses throughout: ‘Worship Jehovah; render him exclusive devotion.’ Though the Law is no longer binding upon Christians, its underlying principles have not been abrogated. (Gal. 3:19) How much true Christians can learn from this dynamic book of God’s law, with its progressive teaching, candor, and simplicity of presentation! Why, even the nations of the world have recognized the excellence of Jehovah’s supreme law, writing many of the regulations of Deuteronomy into their own lawbooks. The accompanying table gives interesting examples of laws that they have drawn on or applied in principle.
34 Moreover, this explanation of the Law points to and heightens appreciation of God’s Kingdom. How so? While on earth the King-Designate, Jesus Christ, was thoroughly acquainted with the book and applied it, as his skillful references to it show. In spreading his Kingdom rule over all the earth, he will govern according to the right principles of this same “law,” and all who come to bless themselves in him as the Kingdom “seed” will have to obey these principles. (Gen. 22:18; Deut. 7:12-14) It is beneficial and advantageous to start obeying them now. Far from being out-of-date, this 3,500-year-old “law” speaks to us today in dynamic tones, and it will keep on speaking right on into the new world under God’s Kingdom. May Jehovah’s name continue to be sanctified among his people in the application of all the beneficial instruction of the Pentateuch, which so gloriously reaches its climax in Deuteronomy—certainly an inspired and inspiring part of “all Scripture”!
Deuteronomy ‒ Some features of the law covenant
*** it-2 pp. 214-220 Law ***
[Box on page 214-220]
SOME FEATURES OF THE LAW COVENANTTHEOCRATIC GOVERNMENT
Jehovah God is the Supreme Sovereign (Ex 19:5; 1Sa 12:12; Isa 33:22)
King to sit on “Jehovah’s throne,” representing Him (1Ch 29:23; De 17:14, 15)
Other officers (chieftains of tribes; chiefs of thousands, of hundreds, of fifties, and of tens) were selected on the basis of their fear of God, as well as their trustworthiness and incorruptibility (Ex 18:21, 25; Nu 1:44)
Respect was due to all who exercised God-given authority: officers, priests, judges, parents (Ex 20:12; 22:28; De 17:8-13)
(These were summed up in the greatest commandment in the Law—to love Jehovah with one’s whole heart, mind, soul, and strength; De 6:5; 10:12; Mr 12:30)
Worship was to go only to Jehovah (Ex 20:3; 22:20; De 5:7)
Love should be a powerful motivating factor in one’s relationship with God (De 6:5, 6; 10:12; 30:16)
All were to fear God so as not to disobey him (Ex 20:20; De 5:29)
God’s name was not to be taken up in a worthless way (Ex 20:7; De 5:11)
They could approach him only in the way he approved (Nu 3:10; Le 10:1-3; 16:1)
All were obligated to keep the Sabbath (Ex 20:8-11; 31:12-17)
Congregating for worship (De 31:10-13)
All males were required to assemble three times a year: Passover and Festival of Unfermented Cakes, Festival of Weeks, and Festival of Booths (De 16:16; Le 23:1-43)
Man who deliberately neglected to keep Passover was “cut off” (Nu 9:13)
Levites received a tithe, or tenth, of all the produce of the land from the other tribes (Nu 18:21-24)
Levites had to give to the priesthood a tithe made up of the very best of what they received (Nu 18:25-29)
Offering of sacrifices (Heb 8:3-5; 10:5-10)
Various offerings outlined in the Law: regular burnt offerings (Le chap 1; Nu chap 28), communion offerings (Le chap 3; 19:5), sin offerings (Le chap 4; Nu 15:22-29), guilt offerings (Le 5:1–6:7), grain offerings (Le chap 2), drink offerings (Nu 15:5, 10), wave offerings (Le 23:10, 11, 15-17)
Practices of false religion forbidden
Idolatry (Ex 20:4-6; De 5:8-10)
Making cuts in one’s flesh for the dead or tattooing one’s body (Le 19:28)
Planting a tree as a sacred pole (De 16:21)
Bringing things detestable, devoted to destruction, into one’s house (De 7:26)
Speaking of revolt against Jehovah (De 13:5)
Advocating false worship (De 13:6-10; 17:2-7)
Going over to false worship (De 13:12-16)
Devoting offspring to false gods (Le 18:21, 29)
Spiritism, sorcery (Ex 22:18; Le 20:27; De 18:9-14)
DUTIES OF PRIESTHOOD
(In fulfilling their duties, the priests were assisted by the Levites; Nu 3:5-10)
Teach the Law of God (De 33:8, 10; Mal 2:7)
Serve as judges, applying divine law (De 17:8, 9; 19:16, 17)
Offer sacrifices on behalf of the people (Le chaps 1-7)
Use Urim and Thummim to inquire of God (Ex 28:30; Nu 27:18-21)
MEMBERSHIP IN THE CONGREGATION OF ISRAEL
Membership in congregation of Israel not limited to those born into the nation
Persons of other nations could become circumcised worshipers
Such alien residents were bound to keep all the terms of the Law covenant (Le 24:22)
Restrictions limiting membership in congregation of Israel
No man castrated by crushing testicles or having male member cut off (De 23:1)
No illegitimate son or his descendants to “tenth generation” (De 23:2)
No Ammonite or Moabite (evidently males) to time indefinite, because they would not extend hospitality but opposed Israel at the time of the Exodus from Egypt (De 23:3-6)
Sons born to Egyptians “as the third generation” could be admitted (De 23:7, 8)
(Laws governing legal cases highlighted Jehovah’s justice and mercy. Judges were given latitude to show mercy, depending on the circumstances. These laws also kept the nation uncontaminated and protected the welfare of each individual Israelite)
Priests, kings, and other men appointed as judges (Ex 18:25, 26; De 16:18; 17:8, 9; 1Ki 3:6, 9-12; 2Ch 19:5)
Standing before judges was regarded as standing before Jehovah (De 1:17; 19:16, 17)
Ordinary cases were submitted to judges (Ex 18:21, 22; De 25:1, 2; 2Ch 19:8-10)
If lower court could not make decision, case would go to higher courts (Ex 18:25, 26; 1Ki 3:16, 28)
Exceptional or hard cases that were taken to priests:
Cases of jealousy or unchastity of wife (Nu 5:12-15)
When witness charged another with revolt (De 19:16, 17)
When a violent deed or one causing bloodshed was committed, or when decision was hard or it was disputed (De 17:8, 9; 21:5)
When man was found slain in field and murderer could not be identified (De 21:1-9)
At least two witnesses required to establish truth (De 17:6; 19:15; compare Joh 8:17; 1Ti 5:19)
Hands of witnesses were to be the first to come upon guilty person in putting him to death. This was deterrent to false, hasty, or careless testimony (De 17:7)
Perjury was strictly forbidden (Ex 20:16; 23:1; De 5:20)
If false accusation against another person, false witness would receive punishment schemed for accused (De 19:16-19)
Bribery, partiality in judgment
Bribery prohibited (Ex 23:8; De 27:25)
Perverting justice forbidden (Ex 23:1, 2, 6, 7; Le 19:15, 35; De 16:19)
Holding a person in custody was done only when case was difficult and had to be decided by Jehovah (Le 24:11-16, 23; Nu 15:32-36)
Strokes—limited to 40, to avoid disgraceful beating (De 25:1-3; compare 2Co 11:24)
Death by stoning—then body might be put on a stake as one accursed (De 13:10; 21:22, 23)
Retaliation—retribution, a like punishment (Le 24:19, 20)
Damages: If a person’s animal damaged the property of another person (Ex 22:5; 21:35, 36); if a person kindled fire that damaged another’s property (Ex 22:6); if a person killed another’s domestic animal (Le 24:18, 21; Ex 21:33, 34); if a person unintentionally appropriated to his own use something “holy,” such as tithes or sacrifices (Le 5:15, 16); if a person deceived an associate about something in his charge or a deposit in hand or a robbery or something found, swearing falsely concerning these things (Le 6:2-7; Nu 5:6-8)
Cities of refuge
Accidental manslayer could flee to nearest one (Nu 35:12-15; De 19:4, 5; Jos 20:2-4)
Then trial was held in jurisdiction where incident occurred
One found to be an unintentional manslayer had to live in city of refuge until the death of the high priest (Nu 35:22-25; Jos 20:5, 6)
A deliberate murderer was put to death (Nu 35:30, 31)
MARRIAGE, FAMILY RELATIONSHIPS, SEXUAL MORALITY
(The Law safeguarded Israel by preserving the sacred status of marriage and family life)
Marriage, first performed by Jehovah (Ge 2:18, 21-24)
Husband was owner of his wife but was answerable to God for how he dealt with her (De 22:22; Mal 2:13-16)
Polygamy was permitted but was regulated so as to safeguard wife and her offspring (De 21:15-17; Ex 21:10)
Marriage was compulsory after seduction (unless father of girl forbade it) (Ex 22:16, 17; De 22:28, 29)
Levirate marriage was the arrangement in which a man married his brother’s widow if his deceased brother died sonless; the man failing to do so was reproached (De 25:5-10)
Marriage alliances with aliens were forbidden (Ex 34:12-16; De 7:1-4), but marriage with captive women was permitted (De 21:10-14)
Women who were heirs of land were to marry only within tribe (Nu 36:6-9)
Only husband was allowed to divorce (for something indecent on wife’s part); he was required to give wife written certificate of divorce (De 24:1-4)
No divorce allowed if husband had married wife after seducing her (De 22:28, 29)
Man could not remarry woman he divorced after she had married again and her second husband divorced her or died (De 24:1-4)
Adultery carried death penalty for both guilty parties (Ex 20:14; De 22:22)
An Israelite man could not marry any of the following: His mother, stepmother, or a secondary wife of his father (Le 18:7, 8; 20:11; De 22:30; 27:20); his sister or half sister (Le 18:9, 11; 20:17; De 27:22); his granddaughter (Le 18:10); his aunt (either his mother’s sister or his father’s sister) (Le 18:12, 13; 20:19); his aunt by marriage (either his father’s brother’s wife or his mother’s brother’s wife) (Le 18:14; 20:20); his daughter-in-law (Le 18:15; 20:12); his daughter, stepdaughter, stepdaughter’s daughter, stepson’s daughter, mother-in-law (Le 18:17; 20:14; De 27:23); brother’s wife (Le 18:16; 20:21), except in levirate marriage (De 25:5, 6); his wife’s sister during his wife’s lifetime (Le 18:18)
An Israelite woman could not marry any of the following: Her son or her stepson (Le 18:7, 8; 20:11; De 22:30; 27:20); her brother or half brother (Le 18:9, 11; 20:17; De 27:22); her grandfather (Le 18:10); her nephew (either her brother’s son or her sister’s son) (Le 18:12, 13; 20:19); her nephew (either her husband’s brother’s son or her husband’s sister’s son) (Le 18:14; 20:20); her father-in-law (Le 18:15; 20:12); her father, stepfather, mother’s stepfather, father’s stepfather, son-in-law (Le 18:7, 17; 20:14; De 27:23); her husband’s brother (Le 18:16; 20:21), except in levirate marriage (De 25:5, 6); her sister’s husband during her sister’s lifetime (Le 18:18)
Penalty for incest: death (Le 18:29; 20:11, 12, 14, 17, 20, 21)
Intercourse during menstruation
If a man and a woman deliberately cohabited during menstruation, they were cut off in death (Le 18:19; 20:18)
Husband who unwittingly had intercourse with wife during such uncleanness (perhaps at unexpected beginning of menstruation) was unclean seven days (Le 15:19-24)
Parents (especially fathers) were commanded to teach children God’s Law (De 6:6-9, 20-25; 11:18-21; Isa 38:19)
Children to honor parents (Ex 20:12; 21:15, 17; Le 19:3; De 5:16; 21:18-21; 27:16)
Wearing dress of opposite sex (to deceive for immoral purposes) was prohibited (De 22:5)
Sodomy carried death penalty for both persons involved (Le 18:22; 20:13)
Bestiality resulted in death for person and beast (Ex 22:19; Le 18:23, 29; 20:15, 16; De 27:21)
Indecent assault (woman in husband’s fight grabbed hold of other man’s privates) punished by amputation of her hand, instead of penalty of like for like, out of Jehovah’s regard for her reproductive powers and her husband’s right to have children by her (De 25:11, 12)
(The Law encouraged both honesty in business dealings and respect for the home and property of others)
Ownership of land
Land was allotted to families (Nu 33:54; 36:2)
Land not sold permanently but reverted to owner at Jubilee; its sale value was based on the number of crops until Jubilee (Le 25:15, 16, 23-28)
If there was a sale, nearest kinsman had right to buy (Jer 32:7-12)
The state did not have right to seize one’s land inheritance for public purposes simply by paying compensation (1Ki 21:2-4)
Share of Levites consisted of cities and their pasture grounds
Of the 48 cities allotted, 13 were priestly cities (Nu 35:2-5; Jos 21:3-42)
Field of pasture ground of a Levite city could not be sold; it belonged to city, not to individuals (Le 25:34)
If man sanctified (set aside the use or production of) part of a field to Jehovah (sanctuary use, priesthood), the standard for estimating its value was that the area of ground seeded by a homer of barley would be worth 50 shekels of silver; the value diminished proportionately according to number of years left until next Jubilee (Le 27:16-18)
If sanctifier wanted to buy it back, he had to add 20 percent to the estimated value (Le 27:19)
If he did not buy it back but sold it to another man, at the Jubilee it became the possession of the priest as holy to Jehovah (Le 27:20, 21)
If a man sanctified to Jehovah part of field he had purchased from another, at Jubilee it returned to original holder (Le 27:22-24)
If a man “devoted” anything of his own property (“devoted” things were permanently and solely for sanctuary use or for destruction; Jos 6:17; 7:1, 15; Eze 44:29), it could not be sold or bought back; it remained Jehovah’s (Le 27:21, 28, 29)
Redemption of property
All land returned to original possessor at time of Jubilee (with previously noted exceptions) (Le 25:8-10, 15, 16, 24-28)
Levites could redeem their houses in Levite cities at any time (Le 25:32, 33)
Jubilee year: began on Day of Atonement, in 50th year; counting started from year Israelites entered land (Le 25:2, 8-19)
Firstborn son inherited double share of property (De 21:15-17)
When there was no son, inheritance went to daughters. (Nu 27:6-8) If man had neither sons nor daughters, it went to his brothers, to his father’s brothers, or to his nearest blood relative (Nu 27:9-11)
Scales, weights, and measures
Jehovah demanded honesty and accuracy (Le 19:35, 36; De 25:13-15)
Cheating was detestable to him (Pr 11:1)
At end of every seven years, Hebrew brothers were released from debts (De 15:1, 2)
Could press foreigner for payment of debt (De 15:3)
Security for a loan
If a person took a person’s outer garment as security for a loan, he must not keep it overnight (The poor often slept in the garment for lack of other bedclothes) (Ex 22:26, 27; De 24:12, 13)
A person could not enter another man’s house to get a pledge or something as a security for a loan. He had to remain outside the house and let the person bring it out to him (This maintained the inviolability of the man’s domain) (De 24:10, 11)
One could not take a hand mill or its upper grindstone for security (The person then could not grind grain to feed himself and his family) (De 24:6)
(These laws regulated Israel’s God-ordained warfare in the Promised Land. Wars of selfish aggression or conquest beyond God-given limits were strictly forbidden)
To be only wars of Jehovah (Nu 21:14; 2Ch 20:15)
Soldiers were sanctified before going into battle (1Sa 21:1-6; compare Le 15:16, 18)
Age of soldiers
Twenty years old and upward (Nu 1:2, 3; 26:1-4)
According to Jewish Antiquities, III, 288 (xii, 4), by Josephus, they served until 50 years of age
Exemptions from military service:
Levites, as ministers of Jehovah (Nu 1:47-49; 2:33)
Man who had not inaugurated newly built house or had not used newly planted vineyard (De 20:5, 6; compare Ec 2:24; 3:12, 13)
Man who had become engaged and had not yet taken his wife. The newly married man continued exempt for one year (Man had the right to have heir and to see this heir) (De 20:7; 24:5)
Man who was fearful (He would tend to break down morale of fellow soldiers) (De 20:8; Jg 7:3)
Cleanliness was required in camp (since soldiers were sanctified for warfare) (De 23:9-14)
No women were allowed as camp followers for sex relations; relations with women were abstained from during campaign. This ensured religious and physical cleanliness (Le 15:16; 1Sa 21:5; 2Sa 11:6-11)
No raping of women among enemy was allowed, for this would be fornication; and no marriage with such women was permitted until campaign was over. This provided for religious cleanliness and it also was an inducement for enemy surrender, for they would be assured that their women would not be molested (De 21:10-13)
Military procedures against enemy cities
If city that was attacked belonged to one of seven nations of land of Canaan (mentioned at De 7:1), all inhabitants were to be devoted to destruction. (De 20:15-17; Jos 11:11-14; De 2:32-34; 3:1-7) If left in the land, these would be a danger to continued relationship of Israel with Jehovah God. He had let them live in land until their iniquity came to completion (Ge 15:13-21)
For cities not belonging to the seven nations, terms of peace would first be proclaimed. (De 20:10, 15) If city surrendered, inhabitants were put to forced labor. If they did not surrender, all males and all women not virgins were killed. Others were spared as captives. (De 20:11-14; compare Nu 31:7, 17, 18.) Killing all men removed danger of later revolt by city and also marriage of these men to Israelite women. These measures also helped to avoid phallic worship and diseases among Israelites
Trees producing food could not be cut down and used for siegeworks (De 20:19, 20)
Chariots were burned; horses were hamstrung to incapacitate them for battle, and later they were killed (Jos 11:6)
DIETARY AND SANITARY LAWS
(These served to keep the Israelites separate from pagan nations, to promote cleanliness and health, and to remind them of their holiness to God; Le 19:2)
Use of blood
Eating of blood was strictly forbidden. (Ge 9:4; Le 7:26; 17:12; De 12:23-25) Penalty for violation: death (Le 7:27; 17:10)
Life (soul) is in the blood (Le 17:11, 14)
Blood of slaughtered animal had to be poured out on ground like water and covered with dust (Le 17:13; De 12:16)
No animal dying of itself or found dead could be eaten (because it was unclean and had not been properly bled) (De 14:21)
Only legal uses: put upon altar for atonement; used for prescribed cleansing purposes (Le 17:11, 12; De 12:27; Nu 19:1-9)
Use of fat
No fat could be eaten; fat belonged to Jehovah (Le 3:16, 17; 7:23, 24)
Eating fat of offering brought death penalty (Le 7:25)
In wilderness, any domestic animals that were to be slaughtered were to be brought to tabernacle. They would be eaten as communion sacrifices (Le 17:3-6)
Penalty for violation: death (Le 17:4, 8, 9)
Wild clean animals caught in hunting could be killed on the spot; blood had to be poured out (Le 17:13, 14)
After entering Promised Land, clean animals could be slaughtered for food in the place of a person’s residence if he was far from the sanctuary, but blood had to be poured on ground (De 12:20-25)
Animals, fish, insects permitted for food:
Every creature that splits hoof, forming a cleft therein, and chews cud (Le 11:2, 3; De 14:6)
Everything in the waters that has fins and scales (Le 11:9-12; De 14:9, 10)
Insects and winged swarming creatures that go upon all fours and have leaper legs: migratory locust, edible locust, cricket, and grasshopper (all according to their kinds) (Le 11:21, 22)
Animals, fish, birds, swarming creatures prohibited for food:
Animals: camel, rock badger, hare, pig (Le 11:4-8; De 14:7, 8)
Fish and other swarming creatures in the water that have no fins or scales (Le 11:10)
Birds and flying creatures: eagle, osprey, black vulture, red kite, black kite, glede, raven, ostrich, owl, gull, falcon, little owl, long-eared owl, swan, pelican, vulture, cormorant, stork, heron, hoopoe, bat, any winged swarming creature that goes on all fours (that is, having locomotion in the manner of animals that walk on four legs). The factors determining which flying creatures were designated ceremonially “unclean” are not expressly stated in the Bible. While most of the “unclean” birds were birds of prey or scavengers, not all of them were (De 14:12-19; Le 11:13-20; see BIRDS and articles on individual birds)
Swarming creatures on the earth: mole rat, jerboa, lizard, gecko fanfoot, large lizard, newt, sand lizard, chameleon, any creature that goes upon the belly, on all fours (style of locomotion), or on any great number of feet (Le 11:29, 30, 42)
Animal that died of itself or was already dead or torn by wild beast (Le 17:15, 16; De 14:21; Ex 22:31)
Animals presented as vow or voluntary offerings, communion sacrifice could be eaten on day offered and on second but not on third day; penalty for violation, death. Thanksgiving sacrifice to be eaten on that day; none to be saved over until morning (second day). Passover must not be left over; what was not eaten was to be burned (Le 7:16-18; 19:5-8; 22:29, 30; Ex 12:10)
Things causing uncleanness:
Emission of semen
Person had to bathe and was unclean until evening (Le 15:16; De 23:10, 11)
Garment touched by semen was washed and was unclean until evening (Le 15:17)
Husband and wife, after having intercourse, had to bathe and were unclean until evening (Le 15:18)
Woman was unclean 7 days after bearing a male, plus 33 days (first 7 days, unclean to all, as in menstruation; 33 days unclean only in relation to touching holy things such as sacrificial meals or coming into the holy place) (Le 12:2-4)
If child was female, woman unclean 14 days, plus 66 (Le 12:5)
Woman’s menstruation (Le 12:2)
Woman unclean seven days in regular menstruation; during entire period of abnormal or extended discharge of blood, plus seven days (Le 15:19, 25, 28)
During her uncleanness anything on which she sat or lay down was unclean (Le 15:20)
Person who touched her or her bed or what she sat on had to wash garments and bathe and was unclean until evening (Le 15:21-23)
If her menstrual impurity came to be upon a man, he was unclean seven days, and any bed upon which he would lie was unclean (Le 15:24)
Anytime she had running discharge she was unclean (Le 15:25)
Safeguards against disease
Leprosy and other plagues
Priest determined whether it was leprosy or not (Le 13:2)
Person was quarantined seven days and then examined; if plague had stopped, quarantined seven more days (Le 13:4, 5, 21, 26); if plague did not spread then, he was pronounced clean (Le 13:6); if plague spread, it was leprosy (Le 13:7, 8)
If leprous, person had to have garments torn, let his head become ungroomed, cover over mustache (or upper lip), call out “Unclean, unclean!” Dwelt isolated outside camp until plague cured (Le 13:45, 46; Nu 5:2-4)
Genital discharge (evidently due to diseased condition) (Le 15:2, 3)
Bed or articles that such a person would sit or lie on were unclean (Le 15:4)
Anyone who touched the affected person, his bed, or whatever he was sitting on was unclean, or if affected person spat on another, he was rendered unclean (Le 15:5-11)
If touched by one having running discharge, earthenware vessels were smashed, wooden one was rinsed with water (Le 15:12)
After discharge stopped, person was unclean seven days (Le 15:13)
Cleanness of military camp was safeguarded by requiring that excrement be deposited outside the camp and be covered over (De 23:12, 13)
Regulations concerning bodies of dead persons
Touching corpse, bone, or burial place of human made one unclean seven days (even when on open field). (Nu 19:11, 16) Death for refusing to purify self (Nu 19:12, 13) (See cleansing procedure at Nu 19:17-19)
All who were in or came into tent containing dead person were unclean as was any opened vessel there on which no lid was tied down (Nu 19:14, 15)
Regulations concerning bodies of dead animals
The body of a clean animal that died of itself made the one who carried it, touched it, or ate it unclean; the dead body of any unclean animal made the one who touched it unclean. Cleansing was required (Le 11:8, 11, 24-31, 36, 39, 40; 17:15, 16)
Bodies of unclean animals would make items such as vessels, jar stands, ovens, garments, skins, and sackcloth unclean by contact (Le 11:32-35)
Spoil taken from city
Everything that could be processed with fire had to be so processed (metals), then purified by water for cleansing; other things had to be washed (Nu 31:20, 22, 23)
OTHER OBLIGATIONS INVOLVING FELLOW CREATURES
(The Law specified that “you must love your fellow as yourself”; Le 19:18. Jesus indicated that this was the second greatest commandment in the Law; Mt 22:37-40)
Toward fellow Israelites
Love was to be shown; murder was forbidden (Ex 20:13; Ro 13:9, 10)
Must not take vengeance or hold a grudge against one’s fellowman (Le 19:18)
Care for the poor (Ex 23:6; Le 25:35, 39-43)
Care for widows and orphans (Ex 22:22-24; De 24:17-21; 27:19)
Respect for property
Stealing was forbidden; compensation was required (Ex 20:15; 22:1-4, 7)
Wrongful desire for property and possessions belonging to one’s fellowman was forbidden (Ex 20:17)
Consideration for the handicapped
Could not ridicule or call down evil upon deaf person; he could not defend himself against statements he could not hear (Le 19:14)
One who put an obstacle in the way of blind person or misled him was cursed (Le 19:14; De 27:18)
Toward alien residents: they were not to be mistreated (Ex 22:21; 23:9; Le 19:33, 34; De 10:17-19; 24:14, 15, 17; 27:19)
Hebrew slave was released in seventh year of his (or her) servitude or at Jubilee year, whichever came first. During slavery, to be treated as hired laborer, with consideration (Ex 21:2; De 15:12; Le 25:10)
If man came in with wife, she went out or was freed with him (Ex 21:3)
If master gave him a wife (evidently a foreigner) while he was in slavery, only he went free; if this wife had borne him children, she and children remained property of master (Ex 21:4)
On freeing Hebrew slave, master had to give him gift according to his ability to give (De 15:13-15)
Slave could be flogged by master. (Ex 21:20, 21) If maimed, was given freedom. (Ex 21:26, 27) If slave died under his master’s beating, master could be punished by death; judges would decide the penalty (Ex 21:20; Le 24:17)
If one came upon a domestic animal in distress, he was obligated to help it, even if it belonged to an enemy of his (Ex 23:4, 5; De 22:4)
Beasts of burden were not to be overworked or mistreated (De 22:10; compare Pr 12:10)
Bull not to be muzzled when threshing, so that it could feed on the grain it was threshing (De 25:4; compare 1Co 9:7-10)
A person was not to take both a mother bird and her eggs, thereby wiping out family (De 22:6, 7)
A person was not to slaughter a bull or a sheep and its young on the same day (Le 22:28)
PURPOSES SERVED BY THE LAW
It made transgressions manifest; it showed that the Israelites needed to be forgiven of their transgressions and that a greater sacrifice was required that could really atone for their sins (Ga 3:19)
As a tutor, it safeguarded and disciplined the Israelites, preparing them for the Messiah as their instructor (Ga 3:24)
Various aspects of the Law were shadows that represented greater things to come; these shadows helped righthearted Israelites to identify the Messiah, since they could see how he fulfilled these prophetic patterns (Heb 10:1; Col 2:17)
References consulted on: Watchtower Library 2013 CD‒ROM
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