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Bible Commentaries
Deuteronomy 26

Coffman's Commentaries on the BibleCoffman's Commentaries


Here we have the conclusion of the Second Address of Moses which began back at Deuteronomy 4:44, the major part of Deuteronomy lying within these chapters. Until the discovery of the ancient format of suzerainty treaties which is so clearly followed by Moses in the remarkable organization of Deuteronomy, scholars were apparently at a loss to account for the peculiar construction of this chapter.

Scott referred to “The two beautiful rituals here” in what he called a “hortatory conclusion.”(F1) The two confessions commanded here evoked this comment from Blair: “They appear more ancient than the Book of Deuteronomy; they formed part of the ancient confessional liturgy of Israel, perhaps that of the Tabernacle, before the construction of Solomon’s temple!”(F2) Amen! And of course that is exactly what all of Deuteronomy actually is! The colossal error of the critical scholars in their constant repetition of their false premise that the central sanctuary which appears in passages like this is a positive and certain reference to “Jerusalem,”(F3) is an untenable conclusion, there being not a single reference in all of Deuteronomy to Jerusalem as the central sanctuary. The passage usually cited as proof of their error is Deuteronomy 14:28 f, but of course, Jerusalem is not mentioned at all. We have already pointed out that for generations prior to the erection of Solomon’s temple, “The House of the Lord,” the place where God recorded his holy name, etc. are expressions that refer undoubtedly to the Tabernacle as constructed according to God’s instructions to Moses. Even Von Rad admitted that the so-called “demand for centralization in Deuteronomy rests upon a very narrow basis.”(F4) We would go much further and declare that this error rests upon no basis whatever.

It is interesting, however, that Von Rad although apparently ignorant of the close resemblance to the suzerainty treaties found in Deuteronomy, nevertheless appeared to discern a similar thing in his words: “Its form looks like the draft of a contract in which each of two parties makes its declaration, that is, each causes the other to bind itself by means of a declaration.(F5)

Throughout Deuteronomy there is a remarkable conformity to the ancient format of suzerainty treaties, not the least of which, is the remarkable confession and ratification here in Deuteronomy 26. As Kline declared, “The unity and authenticity of Deuteronomy as a Mosaic product are confirmed by this remarkable conformity,” and that, “Current orthodox Christian scholarship joins older Christian and Jewish traditions in accepting the plain claims of Deuteronomy itself to be the farewell, ceremonial addresses of Moses to the Israelite assembly on the plains of Moab.”(F6) There is no other rational view of the origin of Deuteronomy.

The outline of the chapter falls into this pattern:

(1) there is a presentation of the first-fruits and tithes (Deuteronomy 26:1-11),

(2) the tithing of the third year (Deuteronomy 26:12-15), and

(3) the formal ratification of the treaty by both parties, i.e., God and Israel (Deuteronomy 26:16-19).

In times before the understanding of the treaty-form of this chapter, containing the final ratification of the covenant, it was customary for commentators to describe Deuteronomy 26:16-19 as “the hortatory conclusion.”(F7) Now, hortatory pertains to “giving exhortation,” but here the words are actually foreign to what is usually considered exhortation, due to the positive affirmation of a compliance, already manifested, with the laws God has provided for Israel. It is not, therefore, “exhortation,” but a formal ratification of the covenant-treaty.

Verses 1-11

“And it shall be, when thou art come unto the land which Jehovah thy God giveth thee for an inheritance, and possessest it, and dwellest therein, that thou shall take of the first of all the fruit of the ground, which thou shalt bring in from thy land that Jehovah thy God giveth thee; and thou shalt put it in a basket, and shall go unto the place which Jehovah thy God shall choose, to cause his name to dwell there. And shalt come unto the priest that shall be in those days, and say unto him, I profess this day unto Jehovah thy God, that I am come unto the land which Jehovah sware unto our fathers to give us. And the priest shall take the basket out of thy hand, and set it down before the altar of Jehovah thy God. And thou shalt answer and say before Jehovah thy God, A Syrian ready to perish was my father; and he went down into Egypt, and sojourned there, few in number; and he became there a nation, great, mighty, and populous. And the Egyptians dealt ill with us, and afflicted us, and laid upon us hard bondage: and we cried unto Jehovah, the God of our fathers, and Jehovah heard out voice, and saw our affliction, and our toil, and our oppression; and Jehovah brought us forth out of Egypt, with a mighty hand, and with an outstretched arm, and with terribleness, and with signs, and with wonders; and he hath brought us unto this place, and hath given us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey. And now, behold, I have brought the first of the fruit of the ground, which thou, O Jehovah, hast given me. And thou shalt set it down before Jehovah, and worship before Jehovah thy God. And thou shalt rejoice in all the good which Jehovah thy God hath given thee, and unto thy house, thou, and the Levite, and the sojourner that is in the midst of thee.”

It is very difficult to be patient with arrogant scholars who seize upon every possible pretext in order to shout “contradiction,” “different traditions,” “the melding of two or more sources.” etc. Even Von Rad declared the passage “uneven,” affirming that in Deuteronomy 26:4, the basket was handed to the priest at the beginning of the ceremony, and that in Deuteronomy 26:10, not until the end of it.(F8) It is perfectly obvious that this account is abbreviated, and that not everything in the full ceremony was detailed, and that there is no intention of the Bible in this instance to describe this ceremony in such a complete manner that Von Rad, or anyone else, would be able to repeat it. Craigie mentioned the alleged “contradiction” in the priest’s setting the basket before the altar (Deuteronomy 26:4), and the worshipper himself doing so in Deuteronomy 26:10, declaring that:

“What is probably intended, however, is that the priest performed an action and spoke some words; then both the action and the words were repeated by the man,… as indicated by the words, you shall respond and say (Deuteronomy 26:5 a).”(F9)

It is also in harmony with the language of all nations that any action caused to be done by a worshipper is, in fact, actually said to be done by the worshipper. Jesus, for example, is said to have baptized people; but he did not personally baptize anyone. What his disciples did, Jesus was said to have done. Therefore, when the worshipper, by his actions, caused the basket to be set down in front of God’s altar, it was proper to say that he had indeed set it there. We cannot suppose for a moment that those commentators who are shouting themselves hoarse about “contradictions in the Bible” do not know such a basic truth as this. They are simply blinded by their a priori decision that there are contradictions, which, of course, they are inclined to see everywhere. An example of this is found in that N.T. scholar who found a contradiction in Peter’s being called Cephas in certain passages!

As Cook accurately discerned: Both of these liturgical enactments (including Deuteronomy 26:1-11) have a clear and close relationship to the whole of the preceding legislation (all the way back to Deuteronomy 4:44), and they form a most appropriate and significant conclusion to it.(F10)

In this paragraph (Deuteronomy 26:1-11), there is the formal acknowledgment on the part of the worshipper that God indeed has fulfilled his promise to the fathers; and, in the next paragraph (Deuteronomy 26:12-15) there is the affirmation of the worshipper that he also has kept his part of the solemn covenant.

Payne understood this chapter as insisting on three things:

(1) that worship must be directed to the true God;

(2) that the worship must be conducted properly, and in the proper sanctuary (Jerusalem is meant); and

(3) that the Israelites should be intelligently grateful.(F11)

In such a comment, we have another example of the needless, erroneous, and constant repetition in the critical community of their decision that “the altar” invariably meant the one in Jerusalem. If Deuteronomy insisted on Jerusalem’s being the only place Israel could worship, why was Jerusalem never mentioned in Deuteronomy?

“A Syrian ready to perish” (Deuteronomy 26:5) In the RSV, this is “a wandering Aramean,” and this is correct, because the literal words here are “an Aramean.” “The patriarchs were Aramean geographically, although not racially,”(F12) because of Jacob’s long residence in Paddan-Aram (Genesis 31:17). The word “Aramean” derives from Aram. Jacob’s being described as “wandering” or “ready to perish,” is strictly correct because Laban attempted repeatedly to destroy his son-in-law Jacob.

Craigie properly described Deuteronomy 26:10 as the climax of the ceremony.(F13) The long, long promises of Almighty God to the patriarchs, reaching back into history for about half a millennium, were at last to be realized. What a chain of fantastic and wonderful events had taken place leading to the culmination of those promises made such a long time ago. And now, within a few days, Israel would enter Canaan. It would be a dramatic moment! The hopes and fears of half a thousand years were reaching their fulfillment; and the long and difficult chain of events leading to the birth of the world’s Saviour would begin to unfold upon the larger stage of national Israel’s place in such plans.

Another important observation on this passage is that of Cousins:

“The most remarkable feature of this liturgy is the way it links the blessings of the soil, not with the cyclic natural forces, such as those associated with the worship of Baal, but with God’s saving acts in history.” (See related material in Hosea 2:8.)(F14)

Any discerning student will find almost countless indications of the Mosaic authorship of Deuteronomy, in the aggregate, leading to the conviction that here indeed we are reading the words God spoke through Moses. For example, Harrison pointed out that, “The reference in Deuteronomy 26:5-10 is strikingly Mosaic in style and content.”(F15) Such references as “hard bondage,” “the mighty hand,” “the outstretched arm,” “cried unto Jehovah,” etc. are Mosaic.

Verses 12-15

“When thou hast made an end of tithing all the tithe of thine increase in the third year, which is the year of tithing, then thou shalt give it unto the Levite, to the sojourner, to the fatherless, to the widow, that they may eat within thy gate, and be filled. And thou shalt say before Jehovah thy God, I have put away the hallowed things out of my house, and also have given them unto the Levite, and unto the sojourner, to the fatherless, and to the widow, according to all thy commandment which thou hast commanded me: I have not transgressed any of thy commandments, neither have I forgotten them: I have not eaten thereof in my mourning, neither have I put away thereof, being unclean, nor given thereof for the dead: I have hearkened unto the voice of Jehovah my God; I have done according to all that thou hast commanded me. Look down from thy holy habitation, from heaven, and bless thy people Israel, and the ground which thou hast given us, as thou swarest unto our fathers, a land flowing with milk and honey.”

Concerning the different tithes mentioned here, see under Deuteronomy 14:22-27 for those in the first paragraph, and under Deuteronomy 14:28-29 for those coming in the third year. This third year tithe was directed to be given to the Levites and to the poor.

“Given thereof for the dead” (Deuteronomy 26:14). This was understood by Jewish commentators to mean that no part of the tithe was to be used to provide such things as a coffin, or burial clothes, for the dead.(F16) Dummelow, however, thought a more likely meaning is that the instructions forbid “making a funeral feast, after the customs of Egyptians.”(F17) The Novena, prevalent in some cultures today, would appear to fall into this category.

Any contact with the dead ceremonially defiled; and the chief concern here appears to be that the sacred third-year tithe was not to have been ceremonially defiled in any manner whatsoever. “The dedicated things were to be employed in glad and holy feasting, not therefore for funeral banquets; for death, and all associated with it, were regarded as unclean.”(F18)

Verses 16-19

“This day Jehovah thy God commandeth thee to do these statutes and ordinances: thou shalt therefore keep and do them with all thy heart, and with all thy soul. Thou hast avouched Jehovah this day to be thy God, and that thou wouldest walk in his ways, and keep his statutes, and his commandments, and his ordinances, and hearken unto his voice: and Jehovah hath avouched thee this day to be a people for his own possession, as he hath promised thee, and that thou shouldest keep all his commandments; and to make thee high above all nations that he hath made, in praise, and in name, and in honor; and that thou mayest be a holy people unto Jehovah thy God, as he hath spoken.”

This surpassingly beautiful passage affirms that Israel indeed had “avouched,” that is, affirmed, or sworn, unto God that they would keep his commandments and that they acknowledged him unequivocally as their true God; it also affirms that God Himself acknowledged Israel as a people for his own possession and that he would, in the future, make of them a nation, high above all other nations in praise, and in honor, and in name, and that Israel would indeed be a holy people unto Jehovah!

Several things here are exceedingly interesting.

Here is the ratification, on the part of both parties, God and Israel, of the covenant, a ratification equivalent in every way with the solemn acceptance of God’s covenant in Exodus 24:7. This additional ratification was necessary for several reasons:

(1) a new generation was at hand;

(2) Moses would die within a few days of this speech, and a new leader in the person of Joshua would be in charge of Israel’s affairs; and

(3) the investiture of the Chosen People with the land of promise would thus be tied to the promises made to the patriarchs.

Long before the full resemblance of these stipulations to the suzerainty treaties of that era had been discovered, Adam Clarke noted that in these four verses we have, “The covenant is thus made and ratified between God and his followers.”(F19) The format in Deuteronomy is of the 1400 B.C. vintage!

But there is infinite tragedy here also. When one considers the high and marvelous things that God promised this nation of Israel, on condition, of course, that they would indeed do what they had so solemnly sworn to do, and then when one considers the shame that ultimately overwhelmed this once glorious people, it brings a catch in the throat and tears to the eyes.

What really happened, afterward? Israel refused to exterminate the Canaanites, and to destroy their idols, their pillars, their groves, and all the false paraphernalia of their evil gods. They rejected God’s role over them, demanding a king like the surrounding nations. Their kings quickly led them into paganism. The nation was divided, and Ephraim usurped the place of God as the lawgiver for God’s people. The whole northern Israel became “joined to his idols.” Israel became merely another Canaanite (Hosea 12:7), just as crooked and evil as were the people God drove out in order to people Canaan with the Israelites. God judged Israel and delivered them to the Assyrians, and northern Israel became the “Ten Lost Tribes.” The same fate overtook the southern Israel within less than two centuries, and they went into Babylonian captivity. All of this happened because of the unbelievable wickedness of Israel. They became “worse than Sodom and Gomorrah” (Ezekiel 16). One must believe that if it had not been for the promise that a Messiah, in time, would be born unto the Jews, that God Almighty would long ago have wiped the Jews off the face of the earth, as He had done with Sodom, but in a sense, God was stuck with Israel until Christ would appear. And then, when the Christ finally came, the leaders of the people demanded his crucifixion, rejected God forever as their ruler, shouting in open court, that “We have no king but Caesar!” All of this preceded and led to the tragedy of Israel. And yet the mind, keeps returning to “what might have been,” only if Israel had proved faithful to her trust.

Yet, despite the sorrows that overwhelmed the secular nation, the righteous remnant within, of whom came the apostles and prophets of the N.T., indeed received the glorious promises, achieved the honors, won the praise, and attained unto the name that God promised so long ago. The Christian portion of the human race is still its pinnacle and crown.

These verses in the ratification ceremony refer “all the way back to Deuteronomy 5:1, where the extensive list of stipulations begins with a repetition of the terms of the Decalogue.(F20)

Bibliographical Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Deuteronomy 26". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bcc/deuteronomy-26.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.
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