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by Albert Barnes
Introduction to Deuteronomy
The ordinary name of the book is derived, through the Septuagint and Vulgate from that sometimes employed by the Jews, “repetition of the Law,” and indicates correctly enough the character and contents of the book.
The bulk of Deuteronomy consists of addresses spoken within the space of 40 days, and beginning on the first day of the 11th month in the 40th year.
The speeches exhibit an unity of style and character which is strikingly consistent with such circumstances. They are pervaded by the same vein of thought, the same tone and tenor of feeling, the same peculiarities of conception and expression. They exhibit matter which is neither documentary nor traditional, but conveyed in the speaker’s own words.
Their aim is strictly hortatory; their style is earnest, heart-stirring, and impressive. In some passages it is sublime, but rhetorical throughout. They keep constantly in view the circumstances present at that time and the crisis to which the fortunes of Israel had at last been brought throught. Moses had before him not the men to whom by God’s command he delivered the law at Sinai, but the following generation which had grown up in the wilderness. Large portions of the Law necessarily stood in abeyance during the years of wandering; and of his present hearers many must have been strangers to various prescribed observances and ordinances. Now, however, upon their entry into settled homes in Canaan a thorough discharge of the various obligations laid on them by the covenant would become imperative; and it is to this state of things that Moses addresses himself. He speaks to hearers neither wholly ignorant of the Law, nor yet fully versed in it. Much is assumed and taken for granted in his speeches; but in other matters he goes into detail, knowing that instruction in them was needed. Sometimes little opportunity is taken of promulgating regulations which are supplementary or auxiliary to those of the preceding books; some few modifications arising out of different or altered circumstances are now made; and the whole Mosaic system is completed by the addition of several enactments in Deut. 12–26 of a social, civil, and political nature. These would have been wholly superfluous during the nomadic life of the desert; but now that the permanent organization of Israel as a nation was to be accomplished, they could not be longer deferred. Accordingly, the legislator, at the command of God, completes his great work by supplying them. Thus, he provides civil institutions for his people accredited by the same divine sanctions as had been vouchsafed to their religious rites.
The preceding books displayed Moses principally in the capacity of legislator or annalist. Deuteronomy sets him before us in that of a prophet. And he not only warns and teaches with an authority and energy which the sublimest pages of the four greater prophets cannot surpass, but he delivers some of the most notable and incontrovertible predictions to be found in the Old Testament. The prophecy in Deuteronomy 18:18 had no doubt its partial verifications in successive ages, but its terms are satisfied in none of them. The prospect opened by it advances continually until it finds its rest in the Messiah, who stands alone as the only complete counterpart of Moses, and as the greater than he. Deuteronomy 28:0 and Deuteronomy 32:0 furnish other and no less manifest examples.
It is generally allowed that Deuteronomy must, in substance, have come from one hand. The book presents, the last four chapters excepted, an undeniable unity in style and treatment; it is cast, so to speak, in one mould; its literary characteristics are such that we cannot believe the composition of it to have been spread over any long period of time: and these facts are in full accord with the traditional view which ascribes the Book to Moses.
Assertions as to the spuriousness of Deuteronomy, though put forward very positively, appear when sifted to rest upon most insufficient arguments. The alleged anachronisms, discrepancies, and difficulties admit for the most part of easy and complete explanation; and no serious attempt has ever been made to meet the overwhelming presumption drawn from the unanimous and unwavering testimony of the ancient Jewish Church and nation that Moses is the author of this book.
Deuteronomy has in a singular manner the attestation of the apostles and of our Lord. Paul, in Romans 10:8; Romans 15:11 argues from it at some length, and expressly quotes it as written by Moses; Peter and Stephen Acts 3:22; Acts 7:37 refer to the promise of “a prophet like unto” Moses, and regard it as given, as it professes to be, by Moses himself; our Lord, wielding “the sword of the Spirit which is the word of God” against the open assaults of Satan, thrice resorts to Deuteronomy for the texts with which He repels the tempter, Matthew 4:4-40.4.10. To urge in reply that the inspiration of the apostles, and even the indwelling of the Spirit “without measure” in the Saviour, would not necessarily preserve them from mistakes on such subjects as the authorship of ancient writings, or to fortify such assertions by remarking that our Lord as the Son of Man was Himself ignorant of some things, is to overlook the important distinction between ignorance and error. To be conscious that much truth lies beyond the range of the intelligence is compatible with the perfection of the creature: but to be deceived by the fraud of others and to fall into error, is not so. To assert then that He who is “the Truth” believed Deuteronomy to be the work of Moses and quoted it expressly as such, though it was in fact a forgery introduced into the world seven or eight centuries after the Exodus, is in effect, even though not in intention, to impeach the perfection and sinlessness of His nature, and seems thus to gainsay the first principles of Christianity.
the Second Week of Advent