What we find in these chapters of Deuteronomy continues to prove the thesis demonstrated in the last post. That is, Deuteronomy seeks to explain the Torah and emphasize particular themes. This is particularly the case with regard to the time coming when they will have one altar in a place that God would choose where they could offer sacrifices. Deuteronomy also continues to seek to elevate women but has no place for the worship of the Canaanite goddess.
Another example from chapter 16 before we move to the next:We have already seen that the Israelites were to destroy the wooden Asherah poles and pillars. And now the text says, “You shall not plant any tree as an Asherah beside the altar of YHWH your God that you shall make. And you shall not set up a pillar, which YHWH your God hates” (Deuteronomy 16:21-22). The point here is that the central worship place will not include any of the trappings of Canaanite religion. Not only will they remove the existing religious idols but they were not to make any new ones for the new worship center. And Deuteronomy 17:1, the next verse, continues the worship theme by prohibiting the sacrifice of a blemished or defective ox or sheep as “an abomination to YHWH your God.”
Sailhamer argues that the theme of Deuteronomy 16:18-18:22 is “instruction for leadership.” For example, there was the discussion of the judges (Deuteronomy 16:18-20). There is a discussion of legal decisions by priests and judges (Deuteronomy 17:8-13). There are laws concerning Israel’s kings (Deuteronomy 17:14-20). Provision is made for the priests and Levites (Deuteronomy 18:1-8). And there is a discussion about prophets in Israel (Deuteronomy 18:15-22). That does appear to be the underlying unifying theme of that section of the stipulations.
Explaining Exodus 22:20, which said, “Whoever sacrifices to any god, other than YHWH alone, shall be devoted to destruction,” Deuteronomy 17 makes clear that the whoever can be “a man or woman” and it expands from saying “other gods” to also include “the sun, or the moon or any of the host of heaven.” Deuteronomy 17 also gives details of how the sentence is to be carried out. It is another example of purging the evil from your midst and only done with 2 or 3 witnesses (17:2-7).
The section on legal decisions by priests and judges also mentions the theme of “purging the evil from Israel.” The idea that doing what the priests and judges say is obeying God and disobeying what they say is rebellion against God is a good summary of much of the teaching of Exodus-Numbers. What this passage in Deuteronomy 17 does is provide for appeal of difficult cases to “the place that YHWH your God will choose.” Remember that before the appeals would go to Moses for the more difficult cases, but this text is providing for the future after Moses (17:8-13). The worship regulations and these legal decisions are linked by the theme of the place YHWH your God will choose. Thus the emphasis on “Within any of your towns” (17:2) and “beside the altar of YHWH your God…” (16:21).
The last section of Deuteronomy 17 (vv.14-20) deals with the laws concerning Israel’s kings. As with the emphasis before on the place YHWH your God will choose, now the king they would set over them would be one “whom YHWH your God will choose.” The law begins, “When you come to the land that YHWH your God is giving you, and you possess it and dwell in it…” This has been somewhat of a theme in Deuteronomy. Even in this section the idea was mentioned before, “in all your towns that YHWH your God is giving you….inherit the land that YHWH your God is giving you” (16:18, 20, cf. 17:2). But instead of towns now we get the more generic “land.” It prohibits setting a foreigner over them “who is not your brother.” This because God will choose a king “from among your brothers.” We knew from the earlier books of Torah that there would be a king, but this is the first time we see the stipulations governing the king.
The king of Israel was to be a scribe and scholar of the Torah: “he shall write for himself in a book a copy of this law [Torah], approved by the Levitical priests. And it shall be with him, and he shall read in it all the days of his life, that he may learn to fear YHWH his God by keeping all the words of this Torah and these statutes, and doing them, that his heart may not be lifted up above his brothers, and he may not turn aside from the commandment, either to the right hand or to the left, so that he may continue long in his kingdom, he and his children, in Israel” (18-20). Note the familiar language of the heart not being lifted up above his brothers (needs a humble heart), also the turning aside to right hand or left, and the continue long in the land themes.
Thus what is true for Israel as a whole is true for their king as an individual. Or better yet, what is true for their king as an individual is true for Israel as a whole.
The text mentions not acquiring many horses for himself or causing the people to return to Egypt for many horses, since “YHWH has said to you, ‘You shall never return that way again’” (16). Exodus had said, “For God said, ‘Lest the people change their minds when they see war and return to Egypt’” (13:17) and “Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of YHWH, which He will work for you today. For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall never see again” (14:13). The text also warns against the king forming a harem: “He shall not acquire many wives for himself, lest his heart turn away, nor shall he acquire for himself excessive silver and gold” (17). Genesis had its share of warnings about harems (i.e., the flood). Again the theme here is “lest his heart turn away” from serving the living God to follow after false gods.
Now we move to the provision for the priests and Levites. Sailhamer explains, “According to Leviticus 7:31-34, the priests were to receive a portion of the fellowship offering, that is, the breast and the right thigh of the animals offered. The portions for the priests described here in Deuteronomy, however, were probably to be taken from the additional offerings prescribed above in chapter 14. These were for the feasts that accompanied the celebration at the tabernacle.”
Thematically the Levites resemble the king in that he was to be “chosen” from among “your brothers” and thus the text says, “They shall have no inheritance among their brothers…For YHWH your God has chosen him out of all your tribes to stand and minister in the name of YHWH, him and his sons for all time” (2a, 5). Levites who make the trip “to the place that YHWH will choose” (6) also get to participate in these feasts.
Then before introducing the office of the prophet (since he has already discussed the king and the priests), the text goes on to explain that all other means of discovering God’s will are ruled out for Israel. They are not to imitate the surrounding culture. Therefore, they are not to burn their children as an offering, practice divination, tell fortunes or interpret omens, be a sorcerer or a charmer or a medium or a wizard or a necromancer (someone who speaks to the dead). These were some of the abominations that was the reason these nations were to be dispossessed of the land.
We already discussed (in the last post) the office of the prophet together with chapter 13. It is worth adding though, that like the king and the priests, the prophet like Moses would be raised up by YHWH “from among their brothers” (Deuteronomy 18:15). Other themes we have been seeing reading this section of Deuteronomy are “but the prophet who presumes to speak…or speaks in the name of other gods, that same prophet shall die” (20). Also this speaking “presumptuously” (22) fits the theme of the legal decisions where someone might act “presumptuously” (17:12-13).
Deuteronomy 19 lays out laws concerning cities of refuge and property boundaries and witnesses. Numbers 35 had mentioned six cities of refuge – three in the tranjordan lands and three in the Promised Land proper. Deuteronomy 4 told us about the three that were established in the transjordan lands. The text deals with the three that will be established in the land where they are going. But the text also mentions the potential for three more if the people obey and God enlarges the land more (which never happens).
The laws concerning witnesses then expand upon what had been said in chapter 17 about the witnesses necessary for a capital offense. But now this is clearly applied to all cases and also spells out what to do with someone who testifies falsely (“you shall do to him as he had meant to do to his brother. So you shall purge the evil from your midst…life for life, eye for eye…” (19-20).
Next we find laws concerning warfare in Deuteronomy 20. We do not find these laws elsewhere in the Torah. However, Abraham appeared to follow these regulations in considerable detail in Gen 14 and Moses followed these rules in Deuteronomy 2:24-3:11. The law had been written on their hearts, but now it was written down. There is a different standard for war with nations “afar off” than for the Canaanite nations that were to be removed from the land. The law begins my mentioning seeing “horses and chariots and an army larger than your own…” (1). This should remind us of the regulations for the king. The nation was to trust YHWH God and not in military might. The theme of the heart is again prominent. “let not your heart faint” (3). Then the priest was to instruct the people that if they are not wholeheartedly in the fight they should go home.
Deuteronomy 21 gives a law not found elsewhere in the Torah concerning unsolved murders. The law allowed the people of the nearest city to atone for a murder when no one knew who did it. This would “purge the guilt of innocent blood from your midst” (9). This clarifies something that has not been explained before. After all, what were you supposed to do if a murder was never solved since the bloodguilt would still need to be atoned for?
The chapter also gives us laws concerning marrying female captives. This law provides for a situation envisioned by war with a nation afar off (as there would be no captives taken among the people of Canaan). The law provided protections for the woman should the man decide to divorce her later. The man who does such a thing has “humiliated her” (14). But it also protected her during and right after the war. He had to take her home and allow her to grieve her parents for a month first.
The laws in Deuteronomy 21 continue with one about inheritance rights. This one deals with a situation like that of Jacob and his two wives Leah and Rachel. “If a man has two wives, the one loved and the other unloved…and if the firstborn son belongs to the unloved” (15). This protected the rights of that firstborn son. Next are laws concerning a rebellious son. If a child will not obey his father or mother “though they discipline him” then he would be stoned. The stoning of the rebellious son would have two effects: “so you shall purge the evil from your midst, and all Israel shall hear, and fear” (21).
And if the death penalty carried out for any capital crime involves hanging a man on a tree then “his body shall not remain all night on the tree, but you shall bury him the same day, for a hanged man is cursed by God. You shall not defile your land that YHWH your God is giving you for an inheritance” (23).
Deuteronomy 22-25 includes many sample laws, many of which only are found here in the Torah though some are selected from laws in Leviticus or elsewhere.
These laws cover the lost & found (1-4), women dressing like men and men like women “for whoever does these things is an abomination to YHWH your God,” (5) taking birds “that it may go well with you, and that you may live long” (6-7), and etc. There are laws protecting women from a lying husband (i.e. one that says she was not a virgin) (13-21). A young woman who was not a virgin when she married would be stoned “because she has done an outrageous thing in Israel by whoring in her father’s house. So you shall purge the evil from your midst” (22:21).
This brings to mind Genesis 34:7 where the rape of Dinah was said to be “an outrageous thing in Israel.” The kinds of things that get this label are things even the Gentiles know are wrong (cf. Gen 20:9). Cases of adultery got the same sentence for both the man and woman in order to “purge the evil from Israel” (22:22).
The text gives the example of a betrothed virgin (not yet married but considered married for the purposes of adultery). If she did not cry for help even though she was in the city (where she would be heard) then she was presumed to have given consent and both were to be stoned in order to “purge the evil from your midst” (22:24). If this took place in the open country then only the man would be stoned because no one would be able to hear her cry for help (22:25-27). If a man did this to a virgin who was not betrothed and gets caught then he would have to pay her father fifty shekels of silver and take her as his wife and he is never allowed to divorce her “all his days.” These laws protect the young woman.
The last verse of Deuteronomy 22 quotes one of the forbidden marital relationships in Lev 18. So here Deuteronomy only mentions one because Leviticus had already given you a list of the forbidden relationships.
Several groups of people are excluded from the assembly of YHWH in Deuteronomy 23.
1. “No one whose testicles are crushed or whose male organ is cut off” (i.e. no eunuchs or otherwise blemished men). It was not just the sacrifice that had to be unblemished (23:1).
2. “No one born of a forbidden union…even to the 10th generation (ten being the number of fullness, in other words, never)” (23:2).
3. “No Ammonite or Moabite…even to the 10th generation…forever, because they did not meet you with bread and water on the way, when you came out of Egypt, and because they hired against you Balaam” (23:3ff). However, an Edomite (“for he is your brother”) and an Egyptian (“for you were a sojourner in his land”) could enter in the third generation (23:7-8).
The text next moves to a couple sample regulations regarding purity (nocturnal emission, excrement) and then several miscellaneous laws. An escaped slave was not to be returned or wronged, the daughters and sons of Israel were not to be cult prostitutes nor would you take their money as an offering for a vow (the wages of a dog = male prostitute), forbidding charging interest on your brother but only on foreigners, and fulfilling vows. If you go into your neighbor’s vineyard you may have as many grapes as you want but cannot take them with you, same idea with grain (to harvest them and take them is stealing, but to eat a few protects the poor).
Chapter 24 opens with laws concerning divorce. Once a man divorced a woman and she remarried he could not take her back again. This protected the woman. The idea is called “an abomination before YHWH” and said to bring “sin upon the land that YHWH your God is giving you for an inheritance” (4).
A newly married man: “He shall not go out with the army or be liable for any other public duty. He shall be free at home one year to be happy with his wife whom he has taken” (5).
Among the miscellaneous laws of chapter 24 are:
“If a man is found stealing one of his brothers, the people of Israel, and if he treats him as a slave or sells him, then that thief shall die. So you shall purge the evil from your midst” (7)
Laws concerning skin diseases (cf. Lev 13) citing the example of Miriam “on the way as you came out of Egypt” (9). Note that many of the laws in Deuteronomy protect women and the poor.
“Fathers shall not be put to death because of their children, nor shall children be put to death because of their fathers. Each one shall be put to death for his own sin” (24:16).
“You shall not pervert the justice due to the sojourner or to the fatherless, or take a widow’s garment in pledge, but you shall remember that you were a slave in Egypt and YHWH your God redeemed you from there; therefore I command you to do this” (17-18). A similar reasoning is given for laws protecting the ability of the poor (sojourners, orphans and widows) with the harvest (19-22).
Chapter 25 covers such laws as how many lashes one can be sentenced to (40 in v.3), the misc “you shall not muzzle an ox when it is treading out the grain,” Levirate marriage, a wife getting in the middle of a fight between her husband and another man (if she “seizes him by the private parts, then you shall cut off her hand. Your eye shall have no pity” (11-12)), weights and measures (false ones are an abomination), and a command to blot out Amalek from under heaven (17-19) because he attacked Israel on the way out of Egypt. Remember that a man whose testicles are crushed could not enter the assembly of YHWH, hence the seriousness of a woman grabbing a man there.
Chapter 26 opens, “When you come into the land…” you were to take a basket of the firstfruits to the priest at “the place where YHWH your God will choose, to make His name dwell there” (1-2). Verses 5-10a are the text of a response that you would make in this time of worship at the altar. It recounts going to Egypt (“a wandering Aramean was my father…”), salvation from Egypt and entrance into the land. The prayer for the second firstfruits tithe every third year (cf. ch.14) is also mentioned in this chapter (vv.12-15).
The chapter ends, “This day YHWH your God commands you to do these statutes and rules. You shall therefore be careful to do them with all your heart and with all your soul. You have declared today that YHWH is your God, and that you will walk in His ways, and keep His statutes and His commandments and His rules, and will obey His voice. And YHWH has declared today that you are a people for His treasured possession, as He has promised you, and that you are to keep all His commandments and that He will set you in praise and in fame and in honor high above all nations that He has made, and that you shall be a people holy to YHWH your God…”
The reason more laws are written down is in order to explain Torah. Deuteronomy fills in gaps not explained earlier and it only mentions in passing those things that are given in detail earlier. The text still does not provide for every situation that a judge or priest might face — having the Spirit is necessary to know what to do in such circumstances. Of course, the reason these things had to be written down in the first place was that they were not written on the hearts of the people of God. What you have seen here is that Deuteronomy retells the Torah emphasizing certain themes and applying the Torah to the new setting where the people will need to obey it — the Promised Land with centralized worship at the place where God would choose.