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Bible Commentaries

Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible

Deuteronomy 29

Verse 1

Both this and the following chapters are part of the ratification of the Sinai Covenant that took place on the plains of Moab, shortly before Israel would enter Canaan, the purpose being that of securing the succession to Leadership in the person of Joshua. A great part of the ceremony was already completed in the previous two chapters, and this through Deuteronomy 30 is concerned principally with the pronouncements of the curses and blessings, these two chapters being actually a kind of summary of the whole convocation of ratification

Deuteronomy 29:1 appears as Deuteronomy 28:69 in the Hebrew Bible, where it serves as a subscription to that long chapter. However, the better arrangement is that which appears in our version where it is the superscription for the final summary of the ratification ceremony embracing Deuteronomy 29-30. As Von Rad expressed it: "It is generally accepted today that this verse which, in German and in Hebrew, is reckoned as the last verse of Deuteronomy 28 is to be considered NOT as the conclusion of what precedes it, but as the heading of what comes next."[1] Von Rad also designated Deuteronomy 29-30 as the section which, in his opinion, "is the section described by this heading.[2] However, we cannot agree with Von Rad's notion that "another covenant" is made here. No, it cannot be another covenant in any sense of the word, for there were no sacrifices, no sprinkling of blood, or anything else identified with the Sinai Covenant.

As Keil accurately observed:

"Here we have literally a renewed declaration of the covenant which the Lord made with the nation at Horeb ... This is a fresh obligation of the congregation to keep the covenant which had already been concluded at Horeb, by the offering of sacrifices and the sprinkling of the people with the sacrificial blood. There was no necessity for the repetition of this act, because, despite Israel's sins, God had not abrogated the covenant, but it still remained in full validity and force."[3]

All of the mystery that perplexes some scholars is cleared up in the understanding that here we have the conclusion ceremony of ratification after the pattern of the old suzerainty treaties, the summary here being in the exact form of those old treaties. Watts' analysis is this:[4]

<MONO>

1. Pre-history...............................Deuteronomy 29:2-9

2. Recording the agreement made..............Deuteronomy 29:10-15

3. Warning against disobedience..............Deuteronomy 29:16-21

4. Curse for breaking covenant...............Deuteronomy 29:22-29

5. Statement of blessing.....................Deuteronomy 30:1-10

6. Exhortation to keep the covenant..........Deuteronomy 30:11-14

7. Blessing and curse conclusion.............Deuteronomy 30:15-20MONO>

As Kline stated, "Moses himself made a direct personal appeal to the people standing before him, and confronted them with the central purpose of the ceremony of this great day."[5] Moses urged the people to choose obedience and life, instead of disobedience and death, pointing out that if they failed, that the curses of the covenant "would be visited on an unfaithful nation throughout their generations (Deuteronomy 29:16-29)."[6]

"These are the words of the covenant which Jehovah commanded Moses to make with the children of Israel in the land of Moab besides the covenant which he made with them in Horeb."

PRE-HISTORY (DEUT. 29:2-9)

"And Moses called unto all Israel, and said unto them, Ye have seen all that Jehovah did before your eyes in the land of Egypt unto Pharaoh, and unto all his servants, and unto all his land; the great trials which thine eyes saw, the signs, and those great wonders: but Jehovah hath not given you a heart to know, and eyes to see, and ears to hear, unto this day. And I have led you forty years by the wilderness: your clothes have not waxed old upon you, and thy shoe is not waxed old upon thy foot. Ye have not eaten bread, neither have ye drunk wine or strong drink; that ye may know that I am Jehovah your God. And when ye came unto this place, Sihon the king of Heshbon, and Og the king of Bashan, came out against us unto battle, and we smote them: and we took their land, and gave it for an inheritance unto the Reubenites, and to the Gadites, and to the half-tribe of the Manassites. Keep therefore the words of this covenant, that ye may prosper in all that ye do."

"Besides the covenant ..." (Deuteronomy 29:1). Despite this language, which should be understood in the sense of "reaffirming" the covenant already in force, "This was not a new covenant in addition to the one made at Sinai, but simply a renewal and reaffirmation of that covenant. Here no sacrifices were offered."[7]

The identity of this "covenant" mentioned here with the one made at Sinai leads to a very important deduction, pointed out by Oberst: "Thus, in future writings, `the Laws of Moses' includes both those given at Sinai and also these given here on the plains of Moab."[8]

In a few minutes Moses would ask the people to swear allegiance to the covenant with God, and leading up to that, in order to have them in the proper frame of mind to do this, and also conforming strictly to the pattern of the suzerainty treaties, there is given here a brief pre-view of God's wonderful works for Israel. True to the Scriptural pattern observed throughout the Pentateuch, that whenever a former event is mentioned, there is usually thrown in some additional truth not previously mentioned, the fact of clothes and shoes not even becoming old is given, also God's withholding wine and strong drink from the people! But think how much was left out! These few verses are but a tiny fragment of all God's wonders on behalf of Israel. This whole ceremony is in the form of an abbreviated conclusion.

There is a note of sadness in Deuteronomy 29:4. For all the wonders of God on behalf of Israel, the vast majority of them possessed very little spiritual understanding. Like those who followed Jesus in later times in Galilee, the people enjoyed the "loaves and the fishes" but they did not look beyond such blessings for the spiritual realities that lay behind them and provided them. As John Calvin put it, "Men are ever blind in the brightest light, until they have been enlightened by God."[9] "The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God; for they are foolishness unto him; and he cannot know them, because they are spiritually discerned" (1 Corinthians 2:14). Moses was one of the great spiritual giants of all time, and in the amazing statement here, he says very sadly, "God has not enlightened you! ... By attributing such incapabilities of the people to God, Moses was merely following the O.T. tradition in relating everything to God as the ultimate source or ground of all things."[10] "The people of Israel so signally favored as to have lived forty years in the atmosphere of supernatural providence, lacked that gift (of spiritual discernment)."[11]

A word of caution is in order. Although it is true that only God can supply the gift of spirituality, man himself is also responsible as to the kind of person he becomes. No one has the right to say, "Well, I'm not the religious kind!" Especially in this dispensation of God's grace, "Whosoever will may come" and drink of the water of life freely. If any man will obey the gospel of Christ, God will create a new heart within him and supply within the man himself "the gift of the Holy Spirit."

In these remarkable ceremonies, Moses not only provided for the future renewal of the covenant (as in the commandments to do so at Mount Ebal), "but he called for rededication then and there. Note the recurring phrase, "this day," in Deuteronomy 29:4,10,12,15, etc."[12]

Before leaving this first paragraph, we should take special note of the fact that Moses is specifically declared to be the speaker, the maker of both covenants, the one at Sinai, and the one here, and these declarations, along with a number of others in Deuteronomy, "constitute the Pentateuchal claim to be the Word of God spoken through Moses."[13] The critical claim that Deuteronomy does not claim Moses as its author, like many another critical cliche, is a falsehood.

Notice in Deuteronomy 29:6, how, in Moses' speech, he unconsciously slips into his role of speaking God's Words, and without change in person, says, "That ye may know that I am Jehovah your God." Kline stated that, "This evidences the reality of the supernatural revelation which came through Moses, God's mediator.[14]

Verse 10

RECORDING THE COVENANT

"Ye stand this day all of you before Jehovah your God; your heads, your tribes, your elders, and your officers, even all the men of Israel, your little ones, your wives, and thy sojourner that is in the midst of thy camps, from the hewer of the wood unto the drawer of the water; that thou mayest enter into the covenant of Jehovah thy God, and into his oath, which Jehovah thy God maketh with thee this day; that he may establish thee this day unto himself for a people, and that he may be unto thee a God, as he spake unto thee, and as he sware unto thy fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob. Neither with you only do I make this covenant and this oath, but with him that standeth here with us this day before Jehovah our God, and also with him that is not here with us this day."

This covenant renewal extended to all within the house of Israel, even the strangers who made their homes among the people of God, and to all who, in the future, would do so! Of all the fantastic comments we have encountered, this one by Cook is the most amazing: "This text is fairly alleged in justification of the Church's practice of admitting little ones into the covenant of God by baptism, and accepting the promises made on their behalf by sponsors."[15] Of course, the text supports in no way whatever the baptizing of infants or the acceptance of such "little ones" into God's kingdom on the basis of pledges made on their behalf by sponsors. Jeremiah prophetically declared that the New Covenant of the grace of God "would be not according to the covenant God made with your fathers" (Jeremiah 31:32); and most certainly the impossibility of untaught, unbelieving, unrepentant persons of any age belonging to it, is one of the differences.

"The hewers of wood and drawers of water mentioned here were identified by Craigie as "those persons charged with the more menial tasks."[16]

"And with him that is not here ..." (Deuteronomy 29:15b). Kline has an excellent word on this:

"This means that there was to be a genealogical continuity to the covenant. This did not mean that salvation was an unalienable family right, but that God is faithful to extend his mercies to thousands of generations of those who love him.[17]

Verse 16

WARNING AGAINST DISOBEDIENCE

"(for ye know how we dwelt in the land of Egypt, and how we came through the midst of the nations through which we passed, and ye have seen their abominations, and their idols, wood and stone, silver and gold, which were among them); lest there should be among you man, or woman, or family, or tribe, whose heart turneth away this day from Jehovah our God, to go to serve the gods of those nations; lest there should be among you a root that beareth gall and wormwood; and it come to pass, when he heareth the words of this curse, that he bless himself in his heart, saying, I shall have peace, though I walk in the stubbornness of my heart, to destroy the moist with the dry. Jehovah will not pardon him, but then the anger of Jehovah and his jealousy shall smoke against that man, and all the curse that is written in this book shall lie upon him, and Jehovah will blot out his name from under heaven. And Jehovah will set him apart unto evil out of all the tribes of Israel, according to all the curses of the covenant that are written in this book of the law."

Regarding the parenthesis in Deuteronomy 29:16,17, "These verses are not a parenthesis (as in the KJV and ASV). Deuteronomy 29:18 connects, not with Deuteronomy 29:15, but with Deuteronomy 29:17, and there should be a full stop at the end of Deuteronomy 29:15."[18] Alexander, along with others, also stressed that, "The covenant was a national agreement,"[19] This is only partially true. Yes, the covenant was indeed made with the whole body of the posterity of Abraham, but throughout the entire O.T., that "whole body" contained within it the real Israel, the true people of God, and a very large, and at times dominant, element of evil and rebellious men. That commingling of the secular and the spiritual Israels was present in the family of Abraham itself as exemplified in the sons Ishmael and Isaac; in the family of Isaac, the same division was seen between Esau and Jacob; and in the family of Jacob, the same cleavage derived from the lying idolatry of Rachel, whose son Ephraim later usurped the very name "Israel" and led the Northern Israel in to the apostasy and debaucheries of paganism. An understanding of the Old Covenant absolutely demands. that it be understood as restricted to the spiritual Israel among the sons of Abraham. See Christ's discussion of this in John 8. In the days of Ahab, the true Israel consisted of only 7,000 people (Romans 11:4).

These verses (Deuteronomy 29:16,17) carry the warnings: "Remember, O Israel, that the Lord is your God, for, as you well know, the temptation to idolatry comes to you from all the surrounding nations; `You have seen their abominations.'"[20] Payne brought up a question which, in the minds of some, might require an answer. He asked, "Why would idolatry attract anyone?"[21] There is a great deal of attractiveness in idolatry, strange as it might appear.

(1) "There is the deliberate act of a warped mind.

(2) There is the sort of person who merely wants to be different."[22] Take a look at the people who turn to Eastern cults, or go off with a lunatic like Jones and wind up drinking cyanide in South America!

(3) There is the ability to get God "out of the way" in idolatry, at least in the mind of the idolater. An idol limits God's presence (in the pagan view) to a specific location, leaving the wicked person free to serve his own lusts. It is the natural passion of every wicked person to put God out of mind; and an idol enables the accomplishment of the next-best thing, that of restricting God to a single location.

(4) Also, an idol misrepresents God in every way. The idol is blind, and deaf, and mute, and helpless, and can, in no way, harm the idolater. That is not the way God is!

(5) In addition to all this, in the ancient pagan systems, there existed the most licentious ceremonies by which the idols were worshipped, and these lustful orgies were a major attraction to men through the lusts of the body.

"Root that beareth gall and wormwood ..." This is a metaphorical way of saying, "an evil person who produces a poisonous influence of bitterness and shame." The author of Hebrews mentioned this in Hebrews 12:15. One such person, advocating wickedness, is capable of defiling many, as indicated by another metaphor here, "He shall destroy the moist with the dry." The meaning of this is simply "everything."[23] Similar metaphors indicating totality as used in America are: "lock, stock, and barrel," "root and branch," etc.

"All the curse ... (Deuteronomy 29:20) all the curses ..." (Deuteronomy 29:21). This emphasizes that this passage is a summary, a ceremonial inclusion of all that God had commanded. There are no less that "ninety-eight of these curses"[24] in Deuteronomy 28 alone!

"That is written in this book ... (Deuteronomy 29:20) What are written in this book of the law ..." (Deuteronomy 29:21). That the whole law of Moses was committed to writing in "this book of the law" reveals that a solemn book of writings, amounting to the charter and constitution of Israel has existed from the times of Moses. That this was later "lost" by Israel is an unsupported and worthless theory. Could the United States of America lose the Declaration of Independence? Theories involving speculations about the lost book of Moses are worthless.

Verse 22

FINAL SUMMARY OF THE CURSE FOR BREAKING THE COVENANT

"And the generation to come, your children that shall rise up after you, and the foreigner that shall come from a far land, and shall say, when they see the plagues of that land, and the sickness wherewith Jehovah hath made it sick; and that the whole land thereof is brimstone, and salt, and a burning, that it is not sown, nor beareth, nor any grass groweth therein, like the overthrow of Sodom and Gomorrah, Admah and Zeboim, which Jehovah overthrew in his anger, and in his wrath: even all the nations shall say, Wherefore hath Jehovah done this unto this land? what meaneth the heat of this great anger? Then men shall say, Because they forsook the covenant of Jehovah, the God of their fathers, which he made with them when he brought them forth out of the land of Egypt, and went and served other gods, and worshipped them, gods that they knew not, and that he had not given unto them: therefore the anger of Jehovah was kindled against their land, to bring upon it all the curse that is written in this book; and Jehovah rooted them out of their land in anger, and in wrath, and in great indignation, and cast them into another land, as at this day. The secret things belong unto Jehovah our God; but the things that are revealed belong unto us and to our children, that we may do all the words of this law."

God's mention here of cursing "the land" was utilized by the Jewish scholars to deny that the curses here would actually fall "upon the people."

The curse of utter rain came only upon the land, and not upon the people, so that the Lord could root them out of their land in anger ... and cast them into another land; but Israel survived and continued to exist as a people.[25]

God, long ago, had already cursed the ground for Adam's sake, and there is no reference to anything like that here. The metaphor of the destroyed land is here a reference to the destroyed people. The land of Palestine never had any kind of disease. It was never burned up. It was never wiped off the face of the earth as were Sodom and Gomorrah. The type of sophistry used by the Rabbis to get Israel out of the curse in this passage is exactly like that which denied Jesus as the Messiah! Despite all this, however, the land of Palestine today is so far from being a "land flowing with milk and honey," as to provide incontrovertible evidence that the land did indeed also suffer an epic disaster, comparable to that which befell Sodom and Gomorrah. "It was a former paradise, but God turned it, like the cities of the plain, into a barren waste."[26] Cook also noted this, saying:

"Those towns of the vale of Siddim, of which were Admah and Zeboim, were fertile and well watered (Genesis 13:10), until devastated by the wrath of God (Genesis 19:24-25); and the ruin of Israel would follow that pattern. The desolate state of Palestine today, and the traces of former fertility and prosperity are attested by every traveler."[27]

Notice in the example given by the Lord, to which the destruction of Palestine would be compared, that the people of Sodom and Gomorrah were not spared by the fact that the destruction fell on the land.

Deuteronomy 29:29 is one of the great verses of the whole book. To us, it seems to be wonderful just as it is. Harrison thought it should be translated: "The secret things belong to the Lord our God, as well as the revealed things; for us and for our children, it is requisite to carry out always all the words of this law."[28] We do not think that would be an improvement! Dummelow, it seems to us, comes very near the true meaning: "We do not know the entire nature and extent of divine judgments; it is enough for us and for our children to have heard the commandments of God, and to do them."[29]

The "hidden things" here mentioned must surely include the question of human suffering as raised by Blair, "Does God reward nations for full obedience and punish them for disobedience?"[30] As far as human observation goes, such a question must remain unanswered in any complete sense; and, it would appear that our lack of complete information in such an area is surely among the "hidden things" that belong to God.

To all people who have received a knowledge of God's will for themselves in this generation, that is the ultimate wisdom. Let people live up to all the light they have and leave the problems to God. That is the course of wisdom and of salvation.

Moses took every precaution to make certain that all Israel understood that the ruin and destruction of their whole nation, as well as its removal from the Promised Land, would result from deliberate disobedience and rebellion against the Lord. The tone and attitude of Moses here seem to indicate that he positively knew already that Israel would not remain true to the covenant.

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 29". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bcc/deuteronomy-29.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.