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Bible Commentaries

Dr. Constable's Expository Notes

Deuteronomy 13

The prophet or receiver of a dream 12:32-13:5

The last verse of chapter 12 in the English Bible is the first verse of chapter 13 in the Hebrew Bible. It introduces what follows.

God permitted some prophets (people who claimed to have direct revelation from God, or to speak for God, or who praised God) to arise in Israel and perform miracles (Deuteronomy 12:1), even though they advocated apostasy from Yahweh. The primary meaning of "prophet" (Heb. nabi’) is "proclaimer" or "forth-teller" (cf. Exodus 4:15-16; Exodus 7:1) [Note: J. Blenkinsopp, A History of Prophecy in Israel, pp. 36-38.] A prophet was, then, a spokesman for God who represented Him before other people. [Note: Merrill, Deuteronomy, p. 230.] God permitted prophets to utter false prophecies to test His people’s love (Deuteronomy 12:3), specifically, to see if they would remain loyal to Him. The acid test of a false prophet was his or her fidelity to the Mosaic Covenant. If he led the people away from God, the civil authorities were to put him to death (Deuteronomy 12:5). Some false prophets would foretell the future since they received this information from the evil spirit world (e.g., diviners, soothsayers, etc.). Some of them could even perform signs and wonders (supernatural acts), which would appear to substantiate their claim that their power came from God. Enticement to idolatry was a very serious crime in Israel. [Note: See Leon J. Wood, The Prophets of Israel, ch. 7: "False Prophecy in Israel," for a good discussion of this subject.]

2. Laws arising from the second commandment 12:32-13:18

The second commandment is, "You shall not make for yourself an image or any likeness . . . [to] worship them or serve them . . ." (Deuteronomy 5:8-10). The writer mentioned three different cases in this section.

"In the ancient suzerainty treaties it was required of the vassal that he must not connive at evil words spoken against the suzerain, whether they amounted to an affront or to a conspiracy. The vassal must report the insult or the fomenting of revolt. In case of active rebellion, he must undertake military measures against the offenders. Moreover, he must manifest fidelity to his lord in such cases no matter who the rebel might be, whether prince or nearest relative. All of this finds its formal counterpart in Deuteronomy 13." [Note: Kline, "Deuteronomy," p. 172.]

B. An exposition of selected covenant laws Chs. 12-25

Moses’ continuing homiletical exposition of the Law of Israel that follows explains reasons for the covenant laws that arose from the Ten Commandments. This address concludes with directions for celebrating and confirming the covenant (Deuteronomy 26:1-15). The section contains a mixture of laws previously revealed to the Israelites and other laws not previously revealed in the code given at Sinai (Exodus 20:1 to Exodus 23:19). This is instruction preached rather than codified as comprehensive legislation.

"The specific laws in this section were given to help the people subordinate every area of their lives to the LORD, and to help them eradicate whatever might threaten that pure devotion." [Note: Deere, p. 283.]

"Placement of the instruction about worship at the sanctuary in first position indicates clearly its priority for Deuteronomy, which assumes that the starting point for the proper, full, and exclusive love of the Lord (the primary demand of the first and second commandments and the Shema) is found in the way Israel carries out the activities of worship." [Note: Miller, p. 129.]

There is an obvious general movement from laws dealing with Israel’s religious life (Deuteronomy 12:1 to Deuteronomy 16:17) to those affecting her civil life (Deuteronomy 16:18 to Deuteronomy 22:8) and finally to those touching personal life (Deuteronomy 22:9 to Deuteronomy 26:15).

Two insightful writers suggested the following outlines for these chapters. [Note: Merrill, Deuteronomy, pp. 218-331; and Stephen A. Kaufman, "The Structure of the Deuteronomic Law," MAARAV 1 (1978-79):105-58.]

1Deuteronomy 12:1-31ch. 12Fidelity
2Deuteronomy 12:32 to Deuteronomy 13:18ch. 12Worship
3Deuteronomy 14:1-21Deuteronomy 13:1 to Deuteronomy 14:27Name of God
4Deuteronomy 14:22 to Deuteronomy 16:17Deuteronomy 14:28 to Deuteronomy 16:17Sabbath
5Deuteronomy 16:18 to Deuteronomy 18:22Deuteronomy 16:18 to Deuteronomy 18:22Authority
6Deuteronomy 19:1 to Deuteronomy 22:8Deuteronomy 19:1 to Deuteronomy 22:8Murder
7Deuteronomy 22:9 to Deuteronomy 23:18Deuteronomy 22:9 to Deuteronomy 23:19Adultery
8Deuteronomy 23:19 to Deuteronomy 24:7Deuteronomy 23:20 to Deuteronomy 24:7Theft
9Deuteronomy 24:8 to Deuteronomy 25:4Deuteronomy 24:8 to Deuteronomy 25:4False witness
10Deuteronomy 25:5-19Deuteronomy 25:5-16Coveting

". . . the entire second discourse of Moses (Deuteronomy 5-26) is a single literary unit that convincingly demonstrates that the moral law informs the statutes, judgments . . . and commands of God." [Note: Walter C. Kaiser Jr., Toward Old Testament Ethics, p. 129.]

In contrast with the Book of the Covenant (Exodus 20-23), the Deuteronomic Code, as some scholars prefer to call this section (chs. 12-26), is a popular exposition rather than a formal legal code. Its purpose was to explain to the generation entering the land all the laws that needed clarification, emphasis, and application, in view of Israel’s imminent entrance into Canaan. These laws reflect a centralized, monarchical society.

The value of this section of Scripture to the Christian today lies primarily in its revelation of the heart, mind, and will of God. The modern student of these chapters should look for this kind of insight here. This is the revelatory value of the Law.

Verses 6-11

The relative or friend 13:6-11

It was not just religious leaders who suffered for this crime. The authorities were to execute any Israelite who sought to lead others into idolatry. Moses set forth the deterrent value of capital punishment as a reason for its practice (Deuteronomy 13:11; cf. Deuteronomy 17:13). In modern times advocates of the abolition of capital punishment have argued that this practice does not deter crime, but the scriptural testimony is that it does.

Verses 12-18

The town 13:12-18

The closest example of a whole town apostatizing that occurred in Israel that Scripture records appears in Judges 20 : the case of Gibeah, a city in Benjamin (cf. Sodom). The circumstances were not exactly the same, but the other Israelites did discipline this town because of its gross sinfulness. In such cases the whole city was to be destroyed and not rebuilt.

"This doom, which goes contrary to the common practice of rebuilding towns on the ruins of the site, as the stratigraphic remains of tells in the Middle East plainly show, indicates how serious the Lord considered any defection from him." [Note: Kalland, p. 98.]

Achan (Joshua 7) was an Israelite who violated God’s command to take nothing "under the ban" (Deuteronomy 13:17). Ai was not an Israelite town when Achan committed his sin, but God’s dealings with Achan show how important the observance of this law was.

"Of all potential crimes in ancient Israel, the one described in this chapter was the most dangerous in terms of its broader ramifications: to attempt deliberately to undermine allegiance to God was the worst form of subversive activity, in that it eroded the constitutional basis of the potential nation, Israel. In its implications, the crime would be equivalent to treason or espionage in time of war." [Note: Craigie, The Book . . ., p. 222.]

Agitation that promoted sedition received careful attention and strict penalties in other ancient Near Eastern political treaties as well as in the Deuteronomic Code. [Note: Moshe Weinfeld, Deuteronomy and the Deuteronomic School, pp. 91-100.]

God’s people need to be aware of the serious danger of idolatry and deal with it in their midst. The Israelites were to execute those among them who engaged in spiritually seditious activities. Christians are to separate from false teachers except for purposes of evangelism and instruction (cf. 2 Timothy 3:13-17; 2 Peter 2:1-3; 2 Peter 3:17-18; 2 John 1:9-11; Judges 1:17-25).

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Bibliographical Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Deuteronomy 13". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". 2012.