Bible Commentary for Numbers 34 – Deuteronomy 17
Numbers Chapter 34
The land of Canaan that Jehovah is giving to the nation of Israel has precisely defined boundaries. The southern boundary begins at the end of the Dead Sea, turns south at the ascent of Akrabbim, on to the Desert of Zin and Kadesh Barnea, 65 miles southwest of the Dead Sea. From there the border extended northwesterly to Hazar Addar and Azmon continuing to the Wadi of Egypt which flows into the Mediterranean Sea. The Mediterranean Sea is to be the western boundary. The northern boundary begins at the Sea along a line with Mount Hor, a mountain in the region of Lebanon, to Lebo-Hamath and Zered and Ziphron and ending at Hazar-enan. The eastern boundary begins at Hazar-enan southward to Shepham. It continues down to the Sea of Galilee, the Jordan and ends at the Dead Sea.
The NIV Bible Commentary, Volume I, page 232, describes the boundaries of Canaan this way: “The southern boundary does not run on a straight line on an east-west basis; it forms a rough broad angle with the southernmost point south of Kadesh. Similarly, the northern boundary forms a rough, broad angle. The resultant picture of the land is somewhat ideal, jewel-like, giving a dynamic shape to the outline of the land.”
Moses now tells the people that the land will be divided between the nine and ½ tribes remaining because Reuben, Gad, and one half of the tribe of Manasseh have been given land on the eastern side of the Jordan. Eleazar the priest, Joshua and 12 appointed leaders from each of the twelve tribes have been given the task of apportioning the land. Caleb would represent the tribe of Judah.
Numbers Chapter 35
Jehovah told Moses to tell the Israelites to give cities from their inheritance to the Levites for them to live in. These cities were to include pastureland for their cattle, livestock and other animals. Jehovah designated the amount of land to be given them outside the city proper. They were to have 48 such cities with six of these being designated as cities of refuge. The larger tribes were to give more cities that the smaller ones in proportion to their inheritance. The purpose of these six cities of refuge was to provide safety from the avenger of blood for anyone who had accidentally killed someone until he could be given a trial. If the avenger of blood killed the person before he knows whether the death was accidental or not would only add to the bloodshed in the land. Three cities were to be in the Transjordan and three in Canaan proper.
The following acts were considered acts of murder: striking a person with an iron object and the person dies, striking a person with a stone and he dies, or striking a person with a wood object and he dies. If a person lies in wait for a person to harm him and he dies or if he kills a person out of hatred, he is a murderer. Anyone committing any of these acts was to be put to death by the avenger of blood.
If a person accidentally pushes someone or throws an object, or while handling a stone drops it on another person and he dies and there was no hatred involved or any harm intended, then this person must stand before the congregation for judgement. If they find him to be innocent of murder, then he is sent back to the city of refuge where he must remain until the death of the current high priest. If he leaves the city of refuge for any reason and is found by the avenger of blood and is killed, the avenger of blood is not guilty of shedding innocent blood. Once the high priest dies, the person is free to return to his property.
A murderer will be put to death on the evidence of two or more witnesses. No ransom can be paid to atone for a murderer; he must be put to death. Nor can a ransom be paid for a person who had fled to a city of refuge enabling him to return to his property before the death of the high priest. This would be polluting the land by allowing the shedding of innocent blood to go unpunished. This way the land would remain holy where Jehovah can dwell.
Numbers Chapter 36
The heads of the tribe of Manasseh approached Moses concerning the question of marriage of the daughters of Zelophehad because they would inherit land. They wanted to know what would happen to the land belonging to the daughters if they married men who were not members of their tribe. Would the land remain in the tribe or would it go to the tribe that the women married into? Jehovah instructed Moses that women who inherit land must marry within their own tribe whomever they wanted so that the tribal inheritance would remain in their ancestral tribe. No tribal inheritance was to be transferred from one tribe to another. The daughter of Zelophehad obeyed Jehovah and they chose to marry sons of their father’s brother so that their inheritance remained in their ancestral tribe of Manasseh.
This concludes the commandments and ordinances that Jehovah gave Moses on the plains of Moab by the Jordan at Jericho to teach to Israel.
THE BOOK OF DEUTERONOMY
Deuteronomy Chapter 1
Moses begins a recount of the instructions and experiences of the nation from Horeb to the plains of Moab where they are currently encamped. It was the first day of the eleventh month in the fortieth year after the defeat of Og and Sihon that Moses begins to expound the law. He begins with Jehovah telling Israel that it was time for them to leave Sinai and go to the land that He was giving them. In verse 2 Moses states that it had taken them eleven days to make the trek from Horeb to Kadesh Barnea by the Mount Seir Road.
Moses now makes reference to the event described in Exodus chapter 18 when he had to admit that because Jehovah had blessed the people to be ‘like the stars in the sky’ that he was unable to judge them alone. So they chose wise, understanding, and respected men from each tribe and Moses appointed them to serve as judges over the people to hear their disputes. These men were charged with the duty to be fair in their judging, not showing any partiality. They were not to be afraid to render just judgements for anyone, as Jehovah was the real judge. Israel was obedient in this matter.
The nation then traveled through the desert until reaching Kadesh Barnea. Moses told them to go up and take the land as Jehovah has given it to them. But they suggested that first they should send out spies to find out the best route to take and what towns they were going to approach. Moses agreed that it would be a good idea. So they sent twelve men, one from each tribe, who went into the hill country and came to the Valley of Eshcol which means, “cluster of grapes," located near Hebron. They brought some of the fruit of the land back and reported that “It is a good land that Jehovah is giving us.”
But some of the men caused the people to lose heart by saying: “The people are stronger and taller than we are; the cities are large, with walls up to the sky. We even saw the Anakites there.” (See Numbers 13:27-29) In spite of the encouraging words that Moses said to them reminding them that Jehovah had in effect ‘carried you as a father carries his son, all the way you went until you reached this place.’ But they did not trust Jehovah in spite of His guidance of them by a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night through the vast and dreadful desert. Jehovah became angry with them and swore: “Not a man of this evil generation shall see the good land I swore to give your forefathers, except Caleb, son of Jephunneh.” Jehovah would give him and his descendants the land of their choosing. Moses then reminds them that it was because of them that Jehovah became angry with him and would not allow him to enter into the land. The responsibility for taking the land would go to Joshua.
After Jehovah pronounced his judgement upon them, the people then decided on their own that they would obey Jehovah and would go up and take the land. But Jehovah told Moses to tell them that they were not to try to engage the Amorites in battle, as He would not be with them. They would be defeated. Moses told them but they refused to listen to him. They continued their rebellious course and were defeated soundly by the Amorites. Moses tells us that after that defeat the people came back and wept before Jehovah, but to no avail. Jehovah was not listening to them. Moses states they stayed in Kadesh for a long time, but nothing more definitive is given here in terms of time.
The NIV Bible Commentary, Volume I, page 239, tells us this: "The phrase "for a long time" (cf 1:46) suggests that the time spent at Kadesh and around Seir took up the period between the abortive attempt to enter Canaan from Kadesh and the end of the wanderings that brought them to the Jordan Rier opposite Jericho. It was a "long time" because the Loar had decreed punishment on the nation for their disobedience at Kadesh."
Deuteronomy Chapter 2
The forty-year disciplinary period had ended and Jehovah told the nation to turn back and set out toward the desert along the route to the Red Sea. They spent some time going around the hill country of Seir until Jehovah told them to turn north. They were about to pass through some part of the territory of Edom and Jehovah reminded them that they were to be careful not to provoke them to war as they would not be given a foot breath of their land. Seir belonged to the descendants of Esau. They were to pay for whatever food they ate or water they drink.
So they went past Edom and traveled along the desert road to Moab. Jehovah made the same statement to them about the land of the Moabites and the Ammonites as he did about Edom. Moab and Ammon belong to the descendants of Lot. Moses here interjects some historical information about the early people who lived in Moab, Ammon and Seir. Jehovah then tells them to cross the Zered Valley. Thirty-eight years have passed since Israel arrived at Kadesh Barnea and their crossing the Zered Valley. Very little information is given concerning the thirty-eight years of wandering in the wilderness. Even so, Moses reminds Israel that Jehovah never abandoned them during their wilderness trek for they lacked for nothing during that time.
They will now cross the Arnon, the wadi that serves as a border between Moab and the Amorites, into the territory of Sihon, king of Heshbon. Jehovah will now give the Amorites into their hands. He will put the terror and fear of Israel on all nations and they will hear reports and will be in anguish because of them. Moses first sends messengers to Sihon to ask if they can pass through his land. He assures him that he is headed for the land across the Jordan. But Sihon refused because Jehovah had hardened his heart in order to give him into Israel’s hands. Israel now struck his entire army down and took all of his towns and completely destroyed them along with all of the inhabitants. All of their livestock they took for themselves. From the Arnon Gorge and as far north as Gilead, they successfully captured all the towns because Jehovah was with them. They did not encroach on any towns or cities belonging to the Ammonites. (Numbers 21:21-35)
Deuteronomy Chapter 3
They now headed northward toward Bashan and Og, king of Bashan, came out to fight Israel. Jehovah encouraged the Israelites not to be afraid of him and he delivered his whole army into their hands. They left no survivors in the sixty heavily fortified cities or in the villages. All the livestock and plunder they carried off for themselves. Capturing Bashan’s territory extended the territory under their control to Mount Hermon. Og was the last of the Rephaites who had once controlled all of the territory where the Ammonites and Moabites now live. But Jehovah destroyed them so that Lot’s descendants could occupy this territory. We learn that Og’s bed (NIV marginal reading, sarcophagus) was made of iron and was thirteen feet long and six feet wide.
This land was distributed to the tribes of Gad, Reuben and the half tribe of Manasseh. Reuben was given the territory that formerly belonged to Moab but had been taken by Sihon, from the Arnon to Heshbon. The Gadites were given the territory from Heshbon to the Jabbok River. Manasseh was given the northern part of Gilead and all of Bashan. Jair of Manasseh conquered additional territories extending to the borders of the Geshurites and Maacathites and this was called by his name, Havvoth Jair or towns of Jair.
Moses at that time reminded the two and one half tribes that even though Jehovah had given them their land inheritance, they would have to cross over and fight with their brothers until the land of Canaan had been conquered. Their livestock and families could remain in the towns that Moses had given them, but they must cross the Jordan River. They would be free to return to their inheritance after their brothers had secured theirs.
Moses now charges Joshua to be strong and not to be afraid as he has seen what Jehovah had done to the two kings, Og and Sihon. He would certainly continue fighting for Israel. Moses says to Jehovah that he is just beginning to see the greatness and the strong hand of Jehovah, that there is no god in heaven or on earth who can do the mighty works and deeds that Jehovah can. So he ask Jehovah again if he can go over and see the good land that lay beyond the Jordan. But Jehovah remains adamant that he will not cross over into the land. He can go to the top of Pisgah and look north, south, east and west and see the land but he will not cross the Jordan. He is to encourage and strengthen Joshua, as Joshua will lead the people across the Jordan.
Deuteronomy Chapter 4
Moses exhorts Israel to not only hear Jehovah’s words but to follow them so that they may live and go in and take possession of the land the Jehovah is giving them. They are not to add nor subtract from any of His commands. They must hold fast to Jehovah as they know what He will do to those who follow other gods. Moses has taught them all that Jehovah commanded him so they are to observe them carefully because it will show that they have wisdom and understanding. When the nations hear about the laws and decrees that Jehovah has given Israel, they will say that ‘Israel is a wise and understanding people.’ No people anywhere can claim that their god is near to them as Jehovah is when Israel prays to Him. Nor can any claim to have righteous decrees, as does Israel, that are embodied in their law covenant.
They must be careful not to forget all that they have seen or let it slip from their hearts. They must teach it to their children and their grandchildren. They are to remember that day when Jehovah commanded Moses to assemble them at Horeb to hear His words so that they would revere Him and would teach His words to their children. They heard Jehovah speak out of the fire but they saw no form. Jehovah declared his covenant to them, the Ten Commandments and He wrote them on stone tablets. Since they saw no form speaking to them, they must be careful not to make an idol of any shape or form of anything that they see and be induced to bow down to worship it.
Moses bemoans the fact that he will not be able to go with the nation when they take possession of the good land. He again warns them against any involvement in idolatry because Jehovah their God is a consuming fire, a jealous God. He tells them that if after they have been in the land for a long time and they forget God’s commands and become corrupt by making an idol, they will perish from the land. Jehovah will scatter them among the nations and only a few will survive. They will then have to worship the man-made gods of the people around them. If they search for Jehovah with all their hearts and souls, He will allow Himself to be found. Jehovah is a merciful God and He will not forget the covenant He concluded with their forefathers.
This nation is in an enviable position. No one can ever remember when a god has acted for a people as Jehovah has for Israel, taking for Himself a nation out of another nation and making it His own; bringing them out of Egypt by performing miraculous signs and wonders, by war, by great and awesome deeds, by a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. They were shown these things so that they would know that there is no other God beside Jehovah. It was because He loved their forefathers that He chose them and brought them out of Egypt and He would drive out nations greater and stronger than they so that He could give them a land for their inheritance. They were to always acknowledge that Jehovah is God in heaven and on earth and they were to keep His decrees and commands so that it will go well with them and their children, that they might live long in the land that Jehovah is giving them.
Moses set aside three cities of refuge in the land east of the Jordan. They were Bezer for the Reubenites, Ramoth in Gilead for the Gadites and Golan in Bashan for the Manassites.
Deuteronomy Chapter 5
The Israelites that are camped on the plains of Moab represent the second generation that was twenty years of age or under when they left Egypt. Moses sees the need to reiterate Jehovah’s laws that were given at Horeb so that they would know the stipulations of the covenant before entering the land of Canaan. Since they were at Horeb he reminds them that they were all in the covenant and had heard God’s voice out of the fire on the mountain. Because they became afraid of the fire, Moses stood between them and Jehovah to declare God’s words to them. But they had heard Jehovah utter the Ten Commandments and Moses repeats them now. Jehovah had also written these commandments on two stone tablets. After hearing God’s voice from the mountain, the leaders of the people came to Moses. They said to him that they had seen the glory and majesty of Jehovah and had heard his voice from the fire. They now knew that a human could live even if God speaks to him. But they believed that it would mean their death if God continued to speak to them. So they would prefer that Moses go near and listen to God and he could return and tell them what God said. They would listen to Moses and would obey. Moses told the elders that Jehovah was pleased with what they had suggested. They were to return to their tents and Moses would stay in the mountain and would be given the commands, decrees and laws and he would teach them to Israel. The people had agreed to accept Moses as their mediator and they put themselves under obligation to listen to him as he is now urging them to do. He is teaching them the commands that Jehovah gave him. (See Exodus 20:18-21; 24:3)
Deuteronomy Chapter 6
Moses reminds the nation again to listen, to hear; Jehovah our God is one, He is unique, He, alone, is God. Jehovah is totally unlike any of the gods that the pagan nations worship. Their gods are unpredictable and morally capricious and cannot be relied upon to set righteous standards. Jehovah is not that way. So they are to keep His laws in their hearts so that they will understand them and apply them correctly. They are to impress them on their children speaking to them constantly about how to apply them in their lives. The next two verses, verses 8 and 9, were later understood to be literal by some Jews and this is what they did: “They would tie phylacteries to their foreheads and left arms. They also attach mezuzot (small wooden or metal containers in which passages of scripture are placed) to the doorframes of their houses.” (NIV Study Bible; See also Matthew 23:5) These verses have a figurative rather than literal meaning and are emphasizing the need to keep these commands before oneself at all times.
When Jehovah brings them into the land, there will be cities already built, many household goods, wells already dug and vineyards and olive groves already planted so that the people will eat to satisfaction. Moses reminds them to be careful not to forget Jehovah, but to continue to fear him so that they will not follow after other gods. Jehovah’s anger will burn against them and destroy them from the face of the earth. He reminds them of Massah where they tested Jehovah and many died.
When future generations ask what do all of the laws, stipulations and decrees mean, they are to tell them that Israel was enslaved in Egypt and Jehovah delivered him by means of miraculous signs and wonders that He brought upon Egypt and Pharaoh. He then brought them out of Egypt in order to bring them to the land that he had promised to their forefathers. He then commanded them to obey Him and fear Him in order that they would be prosperous and keep living. If they were obedient to all His laws and commands it would be counted as righteousness for them.
Deuteronomy Chapter 7
When Jehovah delivers the nations currently occupying the land into Israel’s hand and they defeat them, they are to utterly devote them to destruction. They were not to conclude any treaties with them nor were they to show them mercy. The Bible Knowledge Commentary of the Old Testament, page 276, says this of the practices of the Canaanites: “Studies of their religion, literature, and archeological remains reveal that they were the most morally depraved culture on the earth at that time.” One might say that they were polluting the earth and God was cleaning it up by getting rid of them. For a certainty Israel was not to form any marriage alliances with these wicked people because they would most certainly turn them away from pure worship and Jehovah would be bound to destroy them. They were to remove any trace of any religious objects that belonged to these pagans. Israel was a holy people, a people chosen by Jehovah, His treasured possession.
Jehovah’s choosing of them was not due to any virtue on their part but was in response to a sworn oath that He had uttered to their forefathers. Jehovah is the faithful God who keeps his covenant of love to a thousand generations for those who love and obey him. But to those who hate Him, He is not slow to repay them with destruction. Therefore, Moses reminds them, “take care to follow the commands, decrees and laws that I give you today.” Jehovah will keep his covenant of love with those who are obedient and He will bless them. (See Leviticus chapter 26)
Moses realized that Israel could be intimidated by the nations in Canaan because they were stronger and more numerous than they were. Moses tells them to keep in mind what Jehovah did to Egypt and that He will do the same to the people that they are now facing. Remember that Jehovah your God is a great and awesome God. Jehovah will not remove every pagan from the land at one time or the wild beasts would multiply in the land. They were to be driven out little by little to give Israel time to increase in number so that they could continually take over the land until they possessed it in its entirety.
The images of their gods are to be burned in the fire. They are not to desire the silver or gold on them because even this was detestable to Jehovah and they would be ensnared by it. Nothing detestable that was devoted to destruction was to be brought into their homes. They were to utterly abhor and detest these objects.
Deuteronomy Chapter 8
During the forty-year journey in the wilderness, Jehovah was testing His people in order to know what was in their hearts whether they would obey Him or not. He humbled them by feeding them manna to teach them that ‘man does not live by bread alone but on every word that comes from Jehovah’s mouth.’ (verse 3) Jehovah cared for them during the wilderness trek; their clothes did not wear out neither did their feet swell. (Nehemiah 9:21) Just as a father disciplines his son so Jehovah disciplines His people.
The land that Jehovah is bringing them into is a prosperous land, Moses tells them. It is a land with streams, pools of water and springs flowing in the valleys and hills. It is a land of wheat and barley, vines, fig trees, pomegranates, olive oil and honey and no scarcity; a land where rocks are iron and the hills are full of copper. If they do not continue to praise Jehovah for the land they will forget Him. The tendency would be there to do this after they had been in the land for some time and had built homes, their flocks and herds had increased and they had become wealthy; then their hearts would become proud and they would say that their own power and the strength of their own hands had produced their wealth. So Moses reminds them that they must continue to praise Him for His bounty because it is He that gives them the ability to produce wealth. They must never forget that it was Jehovah who brought them out of Egypt; who led them through the vast and dreadful desert, a thirsty and waterless land, with its snakes and scorpions; who fed them manna to test and humble them so that it would go well with them.
Moses concludes by saying that if they do not obey Jehovah and turn to other god to worship and bow down to them, then Jehovah will destroy them as He did the nations who lived in the land before them.
Deuteronomy Chapter 9
Moses exhorts the people to continue to rely on Jehovah. He reminds them that they are going to dispossess a people who are strong and tall and are more numerous than they are and who live in large cities with very high walls. It would appear from a human standpoint to be an almost impossible task but they have Jehovah with them. He will go across ahead of them and will subdue these inhabitants and they can then drive them out and annihilate them. Jehovah will do the hard part; they must simply follow his lead. They are not to draw the wrong conclusions after they have taken over the land. It is not because of their own righteousness or integrity that they possess this land but it is due to the gross wickedness of the current inhabitants that Jehovah is driving them out. (Genesis 15:16) Jehovah has not forgotten his sworn oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Moses reminds them again that it is not because of their righteousness that Jehovah is doing these things because they have proven to be a stiff-necked people and he cites the incident of the golden calf as an example. (Exodus Chapter 32)
He told them to remember and never forget when they angered Jehovah, while at Horeb, to the point that He wanted to completely wipe them off the face of the earth. Moses at that time was in the mountain to receive the stone tablets of the covenant. At the end of the forty days and nights when Jehovah gave him the tablets, He said to Moses that the people had turned away from Him and had made a cast idol for themselves. He then said: “I have seen this people and they are a stiff-necked people indeed! Let me alone, so that I may destroy them and blot out their name from under heaven. And I will make you into a nation stronger and more numerous than they."
Moses then came down from the mountain and saw what they had done and he threw the tablets to the ground breaking them in front of the people. He then lay prostrate before Jehovah for another forty days and nights because he feared the anger and wrath of Jehovah, that Jehovah would destroy the entire nation. But Jehovah listened to Moses and did not do what He had said He would. Moses had to intercede on Aaron’s behalf also because Jehovah was angry with him. Moses then took the calf, put it into the fire, then ground what was left into dust-like particles and threw it into a stream that flowed down the mountain. In the account recorded at Exodus 32:20, Moses made the people drink this water.
Moses brings to their attention other incidences of their hard-headedness. At Taberah the people complained about the hardships they were experiencing and Jehovah sent fire among them; at Massah where they quarreled with Moses because of the lack of water and were ready to stone him; at Kibroth Hattaavah where the people craved meat and Jehovah provided quail for them. But, because of their greediness, Jehovah struck them with a plague. (Numbers 11:3, 33, 34; Exodus 17:7)
Then at Kadesh Barnea when Jehovah told them to go up and take possession of the land but they again rebelled because they did not trust Jehovah. Moses said that his entire experience with them had been nothing but one of rebellion and disobedience. Again Moses prostrates hinself before Jehovah for another forty days and nights in order to beseech Jehovah so that He would spare their lives. Again, Jehovah listened to Moses, as it was not His will to destroy this people. (Deuteronomy 10:10)
Deuteronomy Chapter 10
Moses continues by saying that Jehovah instructed him to chisel out two tablets like the first ones and to make a wooden chest to put the tablets in. He was then to go back into the mountain where Jehovah would write the Ten Commandments on them. After being in the mountain this second time for forty days and nights, Moses took the tablets with the words written on them, came down the mountain and put them into the chest he had made.
The statements in verses 6-9 are parenthetical where Moses mentions the death of Aaron and the installment of Eleazar as high priest and the choosing of the Levites for special service at the Tabernacle.
Moses’ exhortation encourages the Israelites to fear Jehovah (Proverbs 9:10, 11), to walk in his ways, to love him, to serve him with all their hearts and all their souls (Matthew 22:37) and to observe the commands and decrees that Moses is giving them. Because Jehovah loved their forefathers, He has chosen their descendants as His people out of all nations on the earth, so they ought to circumcise their hearts and should no longer be stiff-necked. (Jeremiah 4:4) Jehovah is God of gods and Lord of lords, a God mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality (Acts 10:34) nor accepts bribes and who loves the alien and provides for them. They should show the same attitude towards aliens as they were once in aliens in Egypt. (Exodus 23:9) So, fear Jehovah, hold fast to him and take their oaths in His name. He is their praise as they have seen the awesome wonders that He performed. Their forefathers were a small number, seventy in all, when they went into Egypt and now they were as numerous as the stars in the sky. (Genesis 12:2)
Deuteronomy Chapter 11
Moses again stresses to them that they should love Jehovah and keep his requirements, his decrees, his laws and commands. They were the ones, not their children, who saw and experienced the discipline of Jehovah, the signs that He performed. They saw what he did to Pharaoh and Egypt, how He destroyed the Egyptian army at the Red Sea and how He preserved them through the desert, how the earth opened its mouth and swallowed up the households of Dathan and Abiram, those rebellious Reubenites. They had seen these things with their own eyes, therefore, they should without fail observe all of Jehovah’s commands so that they would have the strength to go in and take over the land that they were crossing the Jordan to possess. Moses here refers to this land as a land flowing with milk and honey because it ‘drank rain from heaven.” It was different from Egypt where they had to do a lot of irrigating to grow food. This land is one that Jehovah would care for; His eyes would be on it continually from the beginning of the year to the end of the year, provided they were obedient. He would send rain in its season in order that their produce would be bountiful.
They were to be careful to avoid idolatry or Jehovah’s anger would burn against them. He would shut up the heavens that no rain should fall and the land would not yield any produce. They would experience famine. (Deuteronomy 28:23) They would perish from the land. If they fixed these words that Moses was propounding to them into their hearts and minds and they inculcated them into their children, then they would live in the land forever.
The Bible Knowledge Commentary of the Old Testament, page 282 in their explanatory note on verses 16-21 says this: “Through Moses, God again warned Israel against worshipping other gods. This was appropriately related to verses 13-15, because many of the gods’ worshiped in Canaan were fertility deities, that is, gods of grain, oil, rain, etc. Unless the people of Israel were extremely careful they could easily be enticed by their pagan neighbors to enter into the sensual worship of these deities. It would simply be a matter of transferring their trust in the LORD for the fertility of their land to one or more of those false gods. And this worship, which was divorced from the realm of ethics and which emphasized ritual sex, was so appealing to human hearts that careless and morally undisciplined Israelites would be drawn into its fatal web."
If they remain obedient, then Jehovah will drive out nations larger and stronger than they were. Their territory would extend from the desert in the south to Lebanon in the north, the Euphrates on the east and the Mediterranean on the west. No one would be able to stand against them, as Jehovah would put the fear and terror of Israel on the whole land, wherever they went. (Joshua 2:9)
Moses set before them a blessing and a curse; a blessing if they were obedient and a curse if they were not. When they took possession of the land, they were to proclaim these blessings on Mount Gerizim and the curses on Mount Ebal. The NIV Bible Commentary, Volume I, page 253 comments on the choice of these two mountains. It says: “No doubt Gerizim and Ebal were chosen because of their centrality and natural adaptability for such an event. They are close to each other and are both about 3,000 feet above sea level. ‘West of the road’ refers to the main north-south road, and ‘near the great trees of Moreh’ indicates a location a little south of the center of the valley between the two mountains.” Moses tells them that they are about to enter the land to take possession of it. When they take it over, they are to make sure that they obey all the laws that he is setting before them at this time.
Deuteronomy Chapter 12
First in order, when the Israelites are living in the land, they are to completely destroy any vestige of pagan worship whether on a high mountain, on any hill or under any spreading tree. They were to break down all altars, smash the sacred stones and burn the Asherah poles in the fire, cut down the idols of their gods and make sure the names of these gods were completely obliterated from association with the places where they were worshipped. Israel was not to worship Jehovah in the manner of these pagans. They were to seek the place that Jehovah himself would choose to put His name. That is where they would bring their burnt offerings and sacrifices, their tithes and special gifts, their vows, freewill offerings and the firstborn of their herds and flocks. Here they and their families, menservants, maidservants and the Levites from their towns would rejoice before Jehovah. Worship being centered in one place would emphasize that Jehovah is one God, it would promote purity in worship and would show the spiritual unity that existed in their worship.
Israel was not prohibited from eating meat whenever they wanted. They could slaughter an animal from their herd or flock and eat the meat in their towns whether ceremonially clean or not. But they were prohibited from eating the blood of the animal. Blood was to be poured out on the ground. Anything consecrated was to be brought to the central place of worship where the priest would pour the blood out at the base of the altar.
They were not to eat the tithes of the grain, new wine, oil, the firstborn of the herds and flocks or whatever they had vowed to give or their freewill offerings in their towns. These were to be eaten before Jehovah in the place that He chose. They were warned not to forget the Levites whose sustenance depended on their tithes.
An Israelite was never to inquire about the gods of the land in order to imitate these pagan worshippers. They must never worship Jehovah in the way the Canaanites worshipped their gods because their manner of worship was detestable to Jehovah. They would even burn their sons and daughters in the fire to their gods. Any Israelite who engaged in this abominable practice was to be put to death. (Leviticus 20:2-5) Again, Moses reminds them to see that they did all that he commanded them to do. They must not add or take anything away from his words.
Deuteronomy Chapter 13
If someone, whether a prophet or otherwise, announces a miraculous sign or wonder and it takes place and afterwards he encouraged Israel to follow other gods, then they should not listen to him, no matter that he has correctly predicted some event. This prophet has been put before the people to test them to see if they love Jehovah wholeheartedly, if they will follow Him and revere Him, to see if they would resist idolatry. Miraculous signs are not the benchmark of truth, but every utterance coming from Jehovah’s mouth is. This prophet is preaching rebellion against Jehovah and must be put to death because he has tried to turn the people from the way that they should walk. This evil must be purged from among the people.
An Israelite should not listen even if a close relative encourages him to worship another god. He must be the first to bring his hand against this relative to put him to death even if it is his own wife or husband. He is not to listen to him or show him any pity; he should not try to protect him. He should be the one who picks up the first stone to stone this person to death. This should serve to put fear into anyone else so that they will avoid doing the same thing.
It is possible for entire towns to be misled by the wicked persons urging the people to worship other gods. When that happens, a thorough investigation must be undertaken and if the allegation is proven true, then drastic measures are called for. Jehovah’s anger must be appeased or He will remove his spirit and blessings. The entire town must be put to the sword, both people and their livestock. All of the plunder in that town must be brought to the center of the town and burned completely as a whole burnt offering to Jehovah. No one is to remove any item from the possessions of the people who lived in this town. Everything is tainted because of this idolatry. This town is never to be rebuilt, it must lie in ruins forever as a reminder of the consequences of idolatry. If the people are obedient in this, then Jehovah will show them mercy and continue to bless them.
These warnings ought to be uppermost in the minds of Jehovah’s Witnesses in the light of the situation they find themselves in today. Their leaders have introduced idolatry into the nation through their association with the UN as a NGO. They have all been tainted by this sin of idolatry to the point that their covenant with Jehovah has been severed, putting all in a very precarious predicament. Yet we find that many are not concerned about this situation at all. It is not as bad as some would have it. We would recommend that a person who feels this way about that situation read this chapter so that they will know how detestable idolatry is to Jehovah. The entire organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses is now under threat of complete annihilation from Jehovah so it is high time for all honest-hearted ones to leave so that their lives might be spared as this is the day of His favor. (Isaiah 61:2)
Deuteronomy Chapter 14
Moses now reminds the people of Jehovah’s prohibition against eating animals that He deemed unclean. Additionally, since they are children of God, his treasured possession, a holy people, they are also to avoid the mourning practices that the nations perform for their dead such as shaving the front of their heads or cutting themselves.
The listing given in this chapter of clean and unclean animals is basically the same as that given in Leviticus chapter 11, which we have already discussed in some detail. Moses’ listing here is rather brief, they could eat animals that had both a split hoof and chewed the cud from the herd or flock. Any sea creature that had scales and fins was clean for them. They could eat any bird that was not a scavenger such as the vulture, the falcon, the owl, etc. Any flying creature that swarmed was unclean but any winged creature that had jointed legs for hopping was clean. They were not to eat any animal that they found dead but could sell it to a foreigner or give it to an alien living in their towns. If Israel was to remain holy to Jehovah they would avoid eating what Jehovah had banned to them.
Deuteronomy Chapter 15
At the end of every seven years all debt was to be canceled, that is, debt owed to an Israelite by another Israelite. A debt owed by a foreigner to an Israelite would have to be paid. There should not have been any poor in the land if every Israelite obeyed and followed Jehovah’s commands because He would have blessed everyone. But, as verse 11 states “there will always be poor people in the land,” Jehovah made arrangements for those that did become poor for whatever reason. Whenever someone becomes poor, the Israelites were not to be tightfisted towards him. They were to be openhanded and should freely lend whatever was needed whenever it was needed and the fact that the year for canceling debt was near should not be a factor in determining whether to lend to the person or not. If a needy person appealed to Jehovah because he was refused help, Jehovah would consider this a sin for those who refused him help. Jehovah would be generous towards all who themselves gave generously to their less fortunate brothers. (Matthew 5:42; Proverbs 19:17; 21:13; 22:9)
Whenever an Israelite sold himself to serve as a slave to a fellow Israelite, he is only to serve six years and should be freed in the seventh year. He should not be sent away empty-handed but should be supplied with something from the flock, the threshing floor and the winepress. This would give him something to begin his life again with. If he chose not to be set free, then an awl is to be pushed through his ear indicating that he wanted to remain in this household for the remainder of his life. It should not be considered a hardship for an Israelite to set his fellow brother free because his service is more valuable than that of a hired hand. In addition, he would have Jehovah’s blessing upon him for his obedience. When Israel strayed from Jehovah, this was one of His commands that they openly transgressed. (Jeremiah 34:8-11)
All firstborn males of the flock and herd belong to Jehovah and these animals were not to be used in any way to benefit the Israelite. These were to be brought to the Sanctuary, slaughtered and their blood poured out at the base of the altar. The Israelite would eat the meat in the presence of Jehovah. These animals were to be without defect. Any defective animal could be eaten in their towns by the Israelite but its blood must be poured out on the ground.
Deuteronomy Chapter 16
The Passover was to be celebrated in the month of Abib, the month that they were delivered from Egypt. The lamb was to be sacrificed, roasted and eaten at the place that Jehovah would designate. They were to eat it along with unleavened bread, the bread of affliction, and for seven day no leaven was to be found in their homes. It was to always remind them that they had left Egypt in haste. The meat was to be eaten that evening, nothing was to be left over until morning. They would eat unleavened bread for the next six days and on the seventh day, a solemn assembly would be held, no work would be done.
Seven weeks from the time that the first harvest began, they would celebrate the Feast of Weeks. Since it was a harvest celebration, the freewill offering brought to Jehovah would be in proportion to the blessing they received from Jehovah in their fields. It too was to be celebrated at the designated place where Jehovah put His name and it was to be a time of rejoicing.
The Feast of Tabernacles or Booths, occurred in the fall of the year, the seventh month, after they had gathered all their crops in and the wine made. It would last seven days and was to be a time of rejoicing for everyone. These three festivals were mandatory for all the men to attend. They were not to come empty-handed; they would bring a gift in accordance to the blessing they received from Jehovah.
Judges for each tribe were to be appointed in every town and they were to judge fairly (literally righteously). They were not to pervert justice by going against Jehovah’s standard, show partiality, nor accept a bribe. A bribe ‘blinds the eyes of the wise and twists the words of the righteous.’ Justice was to be their byword. Their decisions must conform to all of Jehovah’s laws, if they were to continue to possess the land that Jehovah gave them.
Erecting an Asherah Pole or a sacred stone, symbols of male and female fertility, next to the altar they built to Jehovah was detestable to Him. It would be tantamount to sharing His worship with other gods.
Deuteronomy Chapter 17
If an Israelite man or woman is found worshipping any other god in the towns of Israel and an investigation has been done and the matter has been proven, then this man or woman is to be taken outside the city gate and stoned to death. It must be done on the testimony of two or three witnesses; one witness is not enough to put a person to death. The hands of the witnesses must be first in putting this individual to death; then all of the other people will join them. This would purge this evil out of Israel.
If a case involving bloodshed, lawsuits and assaults had been brought before the local courts and it was too difficult a case for them to make a decision on, then these must be taken to the Levitical priest and the judge who was in office at that time. The decisions handed down by these individuals must be observed as the law. If anyone shows contempt for their decision, then he is to be put to death in order that others will not follow his path of contemptuousness.
The New Interpreters Bible, Volume II, page 421 adds this comment: “The ruling set out concerning legal cases that could not be resolved through the usual judicial processes maintains the ancient custom of settling such disputes by resorting to the services of a priest at a sanctuary. In most cases, this would have called for the use of the sacred lot, rather than depending on any kind of special priestly legal expertise. It is of interest that the type of dispute envisaged as needing such priestly resolution is primarily one that involved physical violence. (v. 8) The various kinds of bloodshed mentioned refer to distinctions between intentional and accidental assaults leading to the death of the victim. A similar understanding must apply to the phrase “one kind of assault and another.” In such cases, the intention of the assailant was of critical importance, but was obviously frequently difficult to determine. Similarly, even accidental injury could be brought about through culpable negligence on the part of a person’s ill-judged actions. The issues relating to “one kind of legal right and another” must refer to claims over property in which proof of ownership could often be difficult to establish.”
Jehovah is well aware that the people will, one day, ask for a king to rule over them. So He outlined some general requirements for this individual. He first of all would be someone that Jehovah chooses from among the people. They could not have a foreigner rule over them. The New Interpreters Bible, Volume II, page 426, says this concerning this requirement: “This has a twofold significance, consciously emphasizing the human status of the king and eliminating the mythological language of a king’s origin from a divine birth, making him “Son of God” as in Egypt. Also it ensured that the king was a native Israelite, thereby precluding that a foreigner could usurp the throne of Israel.”
He was not to acquire great numbers of horses for himself as horses were symbolic of strength in warfare. He would be trusting in his own might rather than in Jehovah. He would need to send the people to Egypt to acquire these horses (1 Kings 10:28, 29) and Jehovah had forbidden Israel from ever returning to Egypt for anything. He was not to have too many wives as they would be a stumbling block to him. (1 Kings 11:3, 4)
He was to have his own personal copy of the law, copied from the one that the priests had. He was to read it all the days of his life so that he would learn to revere Jehovah and follow his words carefully. He was not to consider himself better than his brothers and turn aside from the law thinking that it did not apply to him. His obedience would ensure that he and his descendants would reign a long time in Israel.
***©2005 by YORWW Congregation
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