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Bible Commentaries

Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible

Deuteronomy 11

Verse 1

Here is a renewal of Moses' exhortation to the people, urging them to obedience, enforced by experiences that they had in the wilderness, and in view of God's threatenings and promises. Of particular interest is that, after the pattern of the suzerainty treaties, there is included here a catalogue of curses and blessings contingent upon their keeping the Law or transgressing it, with specific instructions for such a formal re-ratification of the covenant in the days of Joshua within the land of Canaan itself. This element in the chapter (Deuteronomy 11:26-32) is of special importance, because, "In the Hittite suzerainty treaties, it was not unknown for a king, some time before his death, to cause his vassals to swear allegiance to his successor."[1] (For a list of some of the features of those ancient treaties, see the chapter introduction to Deuteronomy 4.) This swearing of allegiance to the God of the covenant to be repeated in the land of Canaan in the days of Moses' successor is another of those features. Still another is the making of two copies of the covenant (seen in the two tables of the Decalogue), and the depositing of these "witnesses" in the holiest shrine of each party. In Israel's case, since God was in their midst, both copies (the two tables) were deposited in the ark of the covenant.

As Dummelow pointed out, there is no break at all here,[2]; Deuteronomy 11:1 being an integral part of Deuteronomy 10:21,22. Moffatt, in fact, included Deuteronomy 11:1 in the same paragraph that began in Deuteronomy 10:20.

"Therefore thou shalt love Jehovah thy God and keep his charge, and his statutes, and his ordinances, and his commandments, alway. And know ye this day: for I speak not with your children that have not known, and that have not seen the chastisement of Jehovah your God, his greatness, his mighty hand, and his outstretched arm, and his signs, and his works which he did in the midst of Egypt unto Pharaoh the king of Egypt, and unto all his land; and what he did unto the army of Egypt, unto their horses, and to their chariots; how he made the water of the Red Sea to overflow them as they pursued after you, and how Jehovah hath destroyed them unto this day; and what he did to you in the wilderness, until ye came unto this place; and what he did unto Dathan and Abiram, the sons of Eliab, the son of Reuben; how the earth opened its mouth, and swallowed them up, and their households, and their tents, and every living thing that followed them, in the midst of all Israel: but your eyes have seen all the great work of Jehovah which he did."

Critics are quick to find an anachronism in Deuteronomy 11:2, noting that it was with a PREVIOUS generation that the covenant at Horeb was made, but ALL of the people whom Moses addressed here between the ages of forty and sixty years were present at Sinai where the mountain burned with fire and God spoke to them out of the midst of the fire. Furthermore, Moses also INCLUDED with them the generation that had participated in the long wilderness experience, seeing many wonders such as the one mentioned, that of the death of Dathan and Abiram. So where is any anachronism? Therefore, it is a mistake to read "your children" (Deuteronomy 11:2) as any others than those very small children and infants recently born.

In Deuteronomy 11:6 we have another example of how FALSE interpretation is made the basis of a critical claim of divergent sources for Deuteronomy. As is well known, Korah was a prominent figure in the rebellion that included Dothan and Abiram, and the omission of Korah's name here leads to the bald and unsupported assertion that the author of this part of Deuteronomy "knew nothing" of Korah's part in that rebellion! It is not Moses' ignorance that shines in a remark like that but the ignorance of the critic. Wright used such notions as the basis of assigning this part of Deuteronomy to an imaginary "JE" and much of the rest of it to "P,"[3] another imaginary non-existent "document."

Moses, the author here, certainly knew all about Korah's guilt, along with that of Dathan and Abiram. Why, then, did he not mention Korah here? There are a number of the most excellent reasons why, as discerned by many able and competent scholars. "Although Korah was the head of this rebellion, Dathan and Abiram were the more determined, audacious and obdurate."[4] It was no doubt because of this greater guilt on the part of Dathan and Abiram that there was a difference in the punishments meted out to Korah on the one hand and to Dathan and Abiram on the other hand, a difference seen in the fact that "the sons of Korah" were spared to continue their father's name among the tribes of Israel. It cannot be denied that it was in respect to that difference that Moses here omitted Korah's name in mentioning the rebels. Keil properly understood and noted this, explaining Moses' omission of Korah's name as being due to considerations of tact, "Out of regard to his sons who were not swallowed up by the earth along with their father,"[5] but who at the time of Moses' speech here were a faithful and significant part of the nation of Israel. What a gratuitous insult (to the Korahites) it would have been for Moses to drag the name of Korah into the speech at this point!

Concerning the dramatic and terrible judgment of the rebels (Dathan, Abiram, etc.), "One would think that such an event would have put a stop to all thoughts of rebellion, murmuring, and disobedience for a long time to come, but on the very next day the people were murmuring against Moses, saying, `Ye killed the people of Jehovah.'"[6] (See Numbers 16).

Verse 8

"Therefore shall ye keep all the commandment which I command you this day, that ye may be strong, and go in and possess the land, whither ye go over to possess it; and that ye may prolong your days in the land, which Jehovah sware unto your fathers to give unto them and to their seed, a land flowing with milk and honey. For the land, whither thou goest to possess it, is not as the land of Egypt, from whence ye came out, where thou sowedst thy seed, and wateredst it with thy foot, as a garden of herbs; but the land, whither ye go over to possess it, is a land of hills and valleys, and drinketh water of the rains of heaven, a land which Jehovah thy God careth for: the eyes of Jehovah thy God are always upon it, from the beginning of the year even unto the end of the year."

It is mandatory to see in these verses that, "God's blessing is not automatic, nor linked to descent, but depends upon obedience."[7] Not only did ancient Israel fail to understand this vital truth, but countless Christians all over the world today look upon their eternal salvation as a thing already achieved and settled because of their claim to have "faith" in Christ, relegating "obedience" to the status of something nobody does anyway, and which is, in fact, impossible!

This paragraph sets forth a favorable contrast of Palestine with Egypt. In Egypt, the agriculture depended upon extensive irrigation, whereas in Palestine God watered the land by the annual rainfall. The mention of watering the crops "with thy foot" could refer either to the devices for pumping water from the Nile "by means of pumps worked by foot,"[8] or to the channeling of irrigation water to successive parts of a field by piling up little mounds and removing them with the feet as the irrigation progressed from one row to another, "thus directing the water from one furrow to another,"[9] a device still known where fields must be irrigated from a common source.

Oberst was certainly correct when he pointed out that today "Agriculture in Palestine depends upon vast irrigation projects, but that is not the way it was when Moses wrote this."[10] There are examples in North America of similar dramatic changes. Frijoles Canyon was once a lush rain valley and supported a prosperous tribe of Indians, but today it is a desert waste land. What made the difference? The blessing of God is a blessing always contingent upon the OBEDIENCE of the people.

Verse 13

"And it shall come to pass, if ye shall hearken diligently unto my commandments which I command you this day, to love Jehovah your God, and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul, that I will give the rain of your land in its season, the former rain and the latter rain, that thou mayest gather in thy grain, and thy new wine, and thine oil. And I will give grass in thy fields for thy cattle, and thou shalt eat and be full. Take heed to yourselves, lest your heart be deceived, and ye turn aside, and serve other gods, and worship them; and the anger of Jehovah be kindled against you, and he shut up the heavens, so that there shall be no rain, and the land shall not yield its fruit; and ye perish quickly from off the good land which Jehovah giveth you."

"The former rain ... the latter rain ..." (Deuteronomy 11:14). The former rains came from the middle of October to the end of December, and the latter rains came in March and April."[11] The failure of either of these seasonal rains was a very serious impediment to the production of crops. On the other hand, God's generosity to Israel in the unusual fertility of the land of Canaan at that time, along with its plentiful rainfall at appropriate times, might be a source of temptation to Israel to believe that, "The fertility was due to Baal, the god of the land (as in the customs and beliefs of the Canaanites)."[12] We like Moffatt's rendition of this warning, "Beware of letting yourselves be fooled!" (Deuteronomy 11:16).

These verses make agricultural blessings to be CONTINGENT absolutely upon the blessing of Almighty God, and Scott, commenting on this said:

"After all, there is truth in the saying that sound morality and true religion are good economics. `Seek ye first his kingdom and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you (Luke 12:31).' The position of Deuteronomy is very similar. Reverence and love Jehovah for what He is; put His laws into daily practice, and it shall be well with thee."[13]

Verse 18

"Therefore shall ye lay up these my words in your heart and in your soul; and ye shall bind them for a sign upon your hand, and they shall be for frontlets between your eyes. And ye shall teach them your children, talking of them when thou sittest in thy house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up. And thou shalt write them upon the door-posts of thy house, and upon thy gates; that your days may be multiplied, and the days of your children, in the land which Jehovah sware unto your fathers to give them, as the days of the heavens above the earth. For if ye shall diligently keep all this commandment, which I command you, to do it, to love Jehovah your God, to walk in all his ways, and to cleave unto him; then will Jehovah drive out all those nations from before you, and ye shall dispossess nations greater and mightier than yourselves. Every place whereon the sole of your foot shall tread shall be yours: from the wilderness, and Lebanon, from the river, the river Euphrates, even unto the hinder sea shall be your border. There shall no man be able to stand before you: Jehovah thy God shall lay the fear of thee and the dread of you upon all the land that ye shall tread upon, as he hath spoken unto you."

(For a more detailed discussion of the [~tsitsith], the [~tephillin], and the [~mezuzah], see under Deuteronomy 6:7,8, above.) The attachment which the Jews have ever had for these items is attested by the fact that, "Even today, one may see on the houses of orthodox Jews a [~mezuzah] on the outside door-post."[14]

"As the days of the heavens above the earth ..."; Deuteronomy 11:21. This means. "As long as the heavens remain stretched over the earth, to the end of time, forever,"[15] or, "As long as the cosmos endures."[16]

The use of such a metaphor is enough to convince some people that, no matter what Israel does, Palestine belongs to Israel as long as the world stands, but that is a gross error. In this very verse, "These words, `that your days may be multiplied' preclude any thought that the land promise to Israel was made unconditionally."[17] Not only that, take a look at the colossal word that begins the very next verse and which contains a statement which is a vital part of this promise, "For IF ye shall diligently keep all this commandment ... etc."

Deuteronomy 11:24 gives the boundaries of the land promise. "The near Eastern peoples oriented themselves by facing east. Thus, the south was on their right, and the hinder sea was the Western Sea, the Mediterranean." In this fact may also lie the reason for the blessings (Deuteronomy 11:26ff) being placed on Mount Gerizim (south of Mount Ebal). That would have been on the right hand of a person facing eastward! Traditionally, the RIGHT hand was always the place of blessing. Jesus spoke of the "sheep on the right hand, and the goats on the LEFT."

"Christians, why can't we learn this lesson that Israel so stubbornly refused to learn, that faithful service of God will enable us to do things that appear totally impossible, accomplish things that try even the imagination, conquer the unconquerable, and to overcome difficulties that seem to be insurmountable? ... Who can stand up against him who is aligned with and in fellowship with Almighty God?"[18]

Verse 26

"Behold, I set before you this day a blessing and a curse: the blessing, If ye shall hearken unto the commandments of Jehovah your God; and the curse, if ye shall not hearken, but turn aside out of the way which I command you this day, to go after other gods, which ye have not known. And it shall come to pass when Jehovah thy God shall bring thee into the land whither thou goest to possess it, that thou shalt set the blessing upon mount Gerizim, and the curse upon mount Ebal. Are they not beyond the Jordan, behind the way of the going down of the sun, in the land of the Canaanites that dwell in the Arabah, over against Gilgal, beside the oaks of Moreh? For ye are to pass over the Jordan to go in to possess the land which Jehovah you God giveth you, and ye shall possess it, and dwell therein. And ye shall observe to do all the statutes and the ordinances which I set before you this day."

"Beyond Jordan ..." (Deuteronomy 11:30) (See under Deuteronomy 1:1 for a discussion of this expression which has the meaning of "transjordan," sometimes meaning "West of Jordan" as here, and often meaning "East of Jordan".) These are exactly the same words that T. Witton Davies said, "prove that the writer was West of Jordan."[19] Nothing could be more undependable than assertions regarding the authorship of Deuteronomy based upon such phrases as this, which sometimes mean one thing, sometimes another.

This whole paragraph (Deuteronomy 11:26-32) regards the transfer of the leadership of Israel from Moses to Joshua.

The transition was to be marked by a two-stage renewal ritual, which would exhibit the continuity of the more ultimate divine leadership. The arrangement was the equivalent of measures taken in vassal treaties by human suzerains to guarantee the dynastic succession on their thrones.[20] Thus, there is a glimpse in advance (here) of that renewal ceremony recorded in Joshua 8:30-35.[21]

Another great feature of this remarkable paragraph is the positive proof it gives of the freedom of the human will. "If Israel were not free agents, they could not be punished for disobedience, nor could they, in any sense of the word, be rewarded for obedience."[22]

Gerizim and Ebal were two significant peaks in central Palestine about 3,000 feet in elevation. They were quite close together with a little valley in between.[23]

Some have complained that Gilgal, mentioned here as being on the way to or in the vicinity of Gerizim and Ebal, "Is not near them (if the usual Gilgal is meant)";[24] but a number of scholars identify the Gilgal here with "the modern Julejib, two and one half miles southeast of the village of Shechem (near these mountains)."[25] "The name Gilgal means a circle, or a cairn of stones, and was used to designate several localities, one of which is near Shechem."[26]

The Arabah mentioned here is the name of the Great Rift in Asia Minor that includes the entire Jordan valley.

We are concerned with one other very important consideration in this chapter. When Joshua, the successor of Moses, honored the instructions here given by Moses, he specifically declared no less than three times (Joshua 8:30-35) that MOSES had commanded these instructions to be obeyed, "as it is written in the Book of the Law of Moses." But, the Book of Deuteronomy is the only book in which those instructions are found, therefore Deuteronomy is a part of the Book of the Law of Moses. If then, there is any truth in the Book of Joshua, then, beyond all possibility of doubt, the Book of Deuteronomy came from Moses. "There is no way to avoid the truth of this conclusion except by robbing the sacred account of all truthfulness. This the destructive critics do without hesitation."[27] We note this at this point, because it is a classical example of how the so-called higher criticism, in the last analysis, is absolutely nothing but an arrogant and conceited denial of what the Holy Bible says. It is the resurgence of the old Satanic lie, "Ye shall not surely die!" The most devious and ingenious methods are adopted by many of the critics to conceal what they actually do, to deny that there is any truth in the Word of God. Such deniers of God's Word must be accounted among the most unprincipled liars ever to appear upon earth!

Copyright Statement
Coffman's Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.
Bibliographical Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Deuteronomy 11". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bcc/deuteronomy-11.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.