We have been arguing that most of Deuteronomy should be understood as fitting the Hittite covenant treaty formulas of the second millennium B.C. (i.e. the time of Moses and shortly thereafter). The speeches are specifically attributed to Moses and he speaks in the first person in them. The framework for the speeches was likely written by Joshua or someone else contemporary to him much like the NT Gospels. Thus the preamble/prologue speaks of Moses in the third person as does the history that follows the speech in Deuteronomy 4 (see verses 41-49). But we also have noted a later hand is obvious as the book has an additional poem and epilogue written after the death of Moses (in fact written even after the cessation of prophecy during the exile). This editor produced a second edition of Deuteronomy with these two additional chapters plus editorial comments like those we have noted about the giants. At first I wanted to argue that the speech of chapter four is the work of this later editor, but the more I study Deuteronomy the more I think it was simply the last thing added to the First Edition.
To some extent the identity of the author of the speech of Deuteronomy 4 is irrelevant. We study the word of God as we have received it. We do not have the First Edition of Deuteronomy in our canon, we have the Second Edition. This highlights an important point that I wish to stress yet again, this Second Edition is the word of God — just because some portions belong to that later date do not make them any less Scripture.
Nevertheless, I will highlight some of the evidence that this sermon is written after the rest of the book (apart from the Second Edition additions) because it shows how important this speech is to understanding the message of the finished product. The next two chapters sound the wisdom themes even more clearly, which is part of the reason I have backed away from arguing this belonged only to the Second Edition — if it did, the themes would be even more prominent here than elsewhere.
First of all, the speech does not really fit the treaty formula “historical prologue.” Some would argue that this demonstrates that Kline is wrong about the treaty formula as an outline of the book, but instead I am arguing that Kline is right about it as the outline of the First Edition except that this was added when that Edition was almost done. We would expect, following the treaty formula, that 1:6-4:29 would be the historical prologue. The stipulations of the covenant-treaty do not begin until chapter 5, the historical verses at the end of chapter 4 after the speech make this apparent. However, the speech in Deut 4 itself is a call to hear the stipulations and do them — it does not continue the historical prologue. The only features tying this speech with the preceeding historical prologue are the continued I-thou nature of the speech and the reference once again to how Moses does not get to enter the land “because of you” (4:21, cf. 1:37, 3:26). The only other historical material in the speech is the reference to the episode of idolatry with Baal of Peor (4:3, left out of the history of Deut 1-3) and the context of the giving of the Ten Words (as the Ten Commandments are called in the Hebrew).
Secondly, the speech is the only place where the word aharith (“the latter days”) is used in the Torah apart from introducing the major eschatological (“speaking of last things”) poems. The poem of Genesis 49 was introduced using it, the fourth poem by Balaam in Numbers was introduced using it, and the poem of Deut 31 was introduced using it. This is a crucial word to understanding the Torah of Moses answering “the beginning” (Gen 1:1). It appears here in Deut 4 to explain that “in the latter days” begins with the exile and then the people returning to YHWH their God and obeying His voice. Thus the speech says, “But from there (in exile) you will seek YHWH your God and you will find Him, if you search after Him with all your heart and with all your soul. When you are in tribulation, and all these things come upon you in the latter days, you will return to YHWH your God and obey His voice” (4:29-30). Thus the speech further explains what the phrase “in the latter days” means. The use of this word here has led another commentator to see this speech as one of the major seams in the Torah.
These verses are very similar to one where we would expect to find this kind of prophecy in the treaty formula: “And when all these things come upon you, the blessing and the curse, which I have set before you, and you call them to mind among all the nations where YHWH your God has driven you, and return to YHWH your God, you and your children, and obey His voice in all that I command you today, with all your heart and with all your soul, then YHWH your God will restore your fortunes (typical return from exile language) and have compassion on you, and He will gather you again from all the peoples where YHWH your God has scattered you” (30:1-4).
This raises a third point. The speech does not really add much new speech material but serves as a summary of some of the most important points made in the book. Thus Deut 4:29-30 and surrounding verses say much the same thing as Deut 30:1-4. The only point that is added to it is to say, “And there (in exile) you will serve gods of wood and stone, the work of human hands, that neither see, nor hear, nor eat, nor smell” (4:28). You can find the first half of this verse in Deut 28:36 “and there (in exile) you shall serve other gods of wood and stone” (and in Deut 28:64). You can also find the phrase “I call heaven and earth to witness against you today” (Deut 4:26) at Deut 30:19 (also cf. 31:28). Chapter 30 is also the appropriate place for witnesses in the treaty formula. In ANE treaties the witnesses would usually be false gods, but for obvious theological reasons heaven and earth are used instead. Additionally, chapter 4:1 is very similar to 5:1 and 6:1.
The speech says, “You shall not add to the word that I command you, nor take from it, that you may keep the commandments of YHWH your God that I command you” (4:2). This is similar to “Everything that I command you, you shall be careful to do. You shall not add to it or take from it” (Deut 12:32 in English, 13:1 in Hebrew). The sermon of Deuteronomy 4 also repeatedly stresses not just hearing but doing the word of God. But the point here is to show again that even this phrase is found elsewhere. 4:2 also highlights the equation of the word and the commandments. This is refering to the stipulations section of Deuteronomy (cf. 5:22 “he added no more”).
A fourth point is that the speech highlights the concerns that a wisdom teacher would have with the book of Deuteronomy and its teaching. Why the point of teaching it is made five times explicitly in the sermon (4:1, 5, 9, 10, 14). The third time it mentions teaching it to children and children’s children and the fourth time to children. This is also a theme that will be important for the treaty formula of Deuteronomy as the treaty had to be passed onto future generations and its transmission and teaching will be highlighted in a later chapter where you would normally find these details stressed. But repeating the point here highlights the shared concern for teaching it that wisdom teachers would have.
It is possible that the reason for giving some of the historical details about the giving of the Ten Commandments is to prepare for the movement from the spoken word to the written word. The discussion on idolatry is founded on this emphasis on words: “you heard the sound of words, but saw no form; there was only a voice (4:12) and “you saw no form on that day that YHWH spoke to you at Horeb out of the midst of the fire (4:15). These spoken words (the Ten Words) were written down on tablets (4:13). But if this belonged to the Second Edition this movement would have been much more pronounced.
Nevertheless, the text hits some other clearly wisdom themes, especially with this “theme verse” of “Keep them (the words) and do them, for that will be your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples, who, when they hear all these statutes, will say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.’ For what great nation is there that has a god so near to it as YHWH our God is to us, whenever we call upon Him? And what great nation is there, that has statutes and rules so righteous as all this law that I set before you today?” (4:6-8). The wisdom terminology is unmistakable and the international perspective also sounds like wisdom writing. One of the points of Deuteronomy is that Israel was not a great nation, but this makes it clear that they would be a great nation if they keep and do the word because then the nations would see that they were wise.
We also see this international wisdom perspective with the discussion of idolatry and the visible heavens, “Beware lest you raise your eyes to heaven, and when you see the sun and the moon and the stars, all the host of heaven, you be drawn away and bow down to them and serve them, things that YHWH your God has allotted to all the peoples under the whole heaven” (4:19). The nations used the heavens to discover the will of God, like the wise men who knew to look for the baby Jesus. You see this in wisdom books like Daniel.
If this chapter is late, Daniel may be the inspiration for describing the exodus event as, “YHWH has taken you and brought you out of the iron furnace, out of Egypt, to be a people of His own inheritance, as you are this day” (4:20). Thus the people who are in the fiery furnace of Babylon (see Daniel 3) can see the restoration from exile as a new exodus as Egypt also was an iron furnace. Clearly Deut 30 was part of the First Edition, so that prophecy of the exile there in Deut 30 is an ancient one and not just looking back from the perspective of being in exile. Yet Deut 4 may be looking back from the perspective of being in exile given this reference to the iron furnace. Again I am not arguing that this chapter is late anymore as I study Deuteronomy more and more.
A fifth point to note is how Deuteronomy 4 says the point of the plagues and exodus event was “so that you might know that YHWH alone is God; there is no other besides Him” (4:35, cf. 39). This is a stronger statement than the First Commandment: “You shall have no other gods before/besides me” (5:7). The First Commandment assumes there are other gods besides the true and living God whereas the declaration of Exodus 4 is stronger ”there is no other besides Him.” Both things are true, of course, but Deuteronomy 4 reflects further theological development especially as you see it in the prophets who appear to make that step from Torah demonstrating that YHWH is greater than all other gods (for example, see our discussion on the plagues in Exodus) to saying that YHWH is the only God. The point that idols “neither see, nor hear, nor eat, nor smell” also is made by the prophets.
Deuteronomy 4 also asks a question that is then asked in a different way in Deuteronomy 5. Thus it asks, “Did any people ever hear the voice of a god speaking out of the midst of the fire, as you have heard, and still live?” (4:33). The question is in the context of “ask now of the days that are past, which were before you, since the day that God created man on the earth, and ask from one end of heaven to the other, whether such a great thing as this has ever happened or was ever heard of” (4:32). But then in the next chapter the people say something similar but their question makes a different point, “YHWH our God has shown us His glory and greatness, and we have heard His voice out of the midst of the fire. this day we have seen God speak with man and still live. Now therefore why should we die? For this great fire will consume us. If we hear the voice of YHWH our God any more, we shall die. For who is there of all flesh, that has heard the voice of the living God speaking out of the midst of fire as we have, and has still lived?” (5:24-27). YHWH says that the people were “right in all that they have spoken” (5:28). But the thing to notice now is that both essentially ask the same question but to make different points.
These observations show how important the chapter is to understanding final product God gave us and we call Deuteronomy. However, there is insufficient evidence to argue that this was only added in the Second Edition, it seems more plausible that it was the last thing written for the First Edition.