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by Thomas Constable
The title of this book in the Hebrew Bible was its first two words, ’elleh haddebarim, which translate into English as "these are the words" (Deu_1:1). Ancient Near Eastern suzerainty treaties began the same way. [Note: Meredith G. Kline, "Deuteronomy," in The Wycliffe Bible Commentary, p. 155.] So the Jewish title gives a strong clue to the literary character of Deuteronomy.
The English title comes from the Septuagint (Greek) translation. "Deuteronomy" means "second law" in Greek. We might suppose that this title arose from the idea that Deuteronomy records the law as Moses repeated it to the new generation of Israelites who were preparing to enter the land, but this is not the case. It came from a mistranslation of a phrase in Deu_17:18. There God commanded Israel’s kings to prepare "a copy of this law" for themselves. The Septuagint translators mistakenly rendered this phrase "this second [repeated] law." The Vulgate (Latin) translation, influenced by the Septuagint, translated the phrase "second law" as deuteronomium from which Deuteronomy is a transliteration. Deuteronomy is to some extent, however, a repetition to the new generation of the Law God gave at Mt. Sinai. Thus God overruled the translators’ error and gave us a title for the book in English that is appropriate in view of the contents of the book. [Note: See the major commentaries on Deuteronomy for further discussion of its title.]
DATE AND WRITER
Moses evidently wrote this book on the plains of Moab shortly before his death, which occurred about 1406 B.C.
The Mosaic authorship of this book is quite easy to establish. The book claims to be the words of Moses (Deu_1:5; Deu_1:9; Deu_5:1; Deu_27:1; Deu_27:8; Deu_29:2; Deu_31:1; Deu_31:30; Deu 33:1, 30) and his writing (Deu_31:9; Deu_31:22; Deu_31:24). Other Old Testament books also assert the Mosaic authorship of Deuteronomy (1Ki_2:3; 1Ki_8:53; 2Ki_14:6; 2Ki_18:6; 2Ki_18:12). Jesus Christ believed Moses wrote Deuteronomy (Mat_19:7-8; Mar_10:3-5; Mar_12:19; Joh_5:46-47) as did the Apostle Peter (Act_3:22), Stephen (Act_7:37-38), Paul (Rom_10:19; 1Co_9:9), and the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews (Heb_10:28).
"The authorship of no other book in the Old Testament is so explicitly emphasized." [Note: International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, s.v. "Deuteronomy," by George L. Robinson, 2:836. See also Daniel I. Block, "Recovering the Voice of Moses: The Genesis of Deuteronomy," Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 44:3 (September 2001):385-408.]
There are a few passages in the book that were apparently added by a later editor: Deu_1:1; Deu_2:10-11; Deu_2:20-23; Deu_3:9; Deu_3:11; Deu_3:13-14; Deu_10:6-9; Deuteronomy 34. Of course, Moses could have written these verses too, but this would be quite unusual. When these verses were added, we can only guess.
Some scholars have identified Deuteronomy with the book of the law that King Josiah discovered as he was cleaning out the temple (2 Kings 22-23). This theory goes back as far as the early church father Jerome (A.D. 342-420). The theory is impossible to prove, but there are reasons some scholars have made this connection. [Note: See Tremper Longman III and Raymond B. Dillard, An Introduction to the Old Testament, pp. 105-6.]
The form in which Moses wrote Deuteronomy is very similar to that of ancient Near Eastern suzerainty-vassal treaties dating before and during the Mosaic era. This structural evidence confirms an early date of composition. [Note: See Meredith G. Kline, Treaty of the Great King for discussion of Deuteronomy as a suzerainty-vassal treaty; and Longman and Dillard, pp. 110-12, for discussion of the debate.]
In spite of such conclusive evidence some scholars prefer a later date for Deuteronomy. The critics favor a post-Mosaic but pre-seventh-century date, a seventh-century date in King Josiah’s era, or a postexilic date. [Note: For a survey of major studies in Deuteronomy since 1938, see Gary Collier, "The Problem of Deuteronomy: In Search of a Perspective," Restoration Quarterly 26:4 (1983):215-33. For an excellent defense of the conservative dating of Deuteronomy as opposed to the critical dating, especially the seventh-century B.C. option, see Gordon Wenham, "The date of Deuteronomy: linch-pin of Old Testament criticism," Themelios 10:3 (April 1985):15-20, and 11:1 (September 1985):15-18. For a more general review of the criticism of Deuteronomy, see Longman and Dillard, pp. 104-9; or Edward J. Young, My Servants the Prophets, pp. 13-20.]
Deuteronomy is similar to Leviticus in that both books contain a record of instructions and speeches almost exclusively. Deuteronomy is not so much a book of history, as Genesis, Exodus, and Numbers are, as it is a book of law. In contrast to Leviticus, however, Deuteronomy is law preached rather than law taught.
The scope of history covered in Deuteronomy is very brief. All the events recorded took place on the plains of Moab probably within a few weeks just before Israel’s entrance into Canaan.
"According to the Index locorum of Nestle’s Novum Testamentum Graece Deuteronomy is quoted or otherwise cited at least 95 times in the New Testament (compared to 103 for Genesis, 113 for Exodus , 35 for Leviticus , , 20 for Numbers), making it one of the favorite Old Testament books of Jesus and the apostles." [Note: Eugene H. Merrill, "Deuteronomy, New Testament Faith, and the Christian Life," in Integrity of Heart, Skillfulness of Hands, p. 23. See D. Eberhard Nestle, ed., Novum Testamentum Graece, 21st ed., pp. 658-61.]
"The book of Deuteronomy is the document prepared by Moses as a witness to the dynastic covenant which the Lord gave to Israel in the plains of Moab (cf. Deu_31:26)." [Note: Kline, "Deuteronomy," p. 155.]
"In line with the general correspondence of the form of a thing to its function, it is safe to say that one cannot understand the theology of Deuteronomy without reference to its covenant form and structure . . . It is no exaggeration to maintain that the concept of covenant lies at the very heart of the book and may be said to be the center of its theology.
"Covenant by its very definition demands at least three elements-the two contracting parties and the document that describes and outlines the purpose, nature, and requirements of the relationship. Thus the three major rubrics of the theology of Deuteronomy are (1) Yahweh, the Great King and covenant initiator; (2) Israel, the vassal and covenant recipient; and (3) the book itself, the covenant organ, complete with the essentials of standard treaty documents. This means, moreover, that all the revelation of the book must be seen through the prism of covenant and not abstractly removed from the peculiar historical and ideological context in which it originated." [Note: Eugene H. Merrill, Deuteronomy, pp. 47-48.]
"The theological values of Deuteronomy can hardly be exaggerated. It stands as the wellspring of biblical historical revelation. It is a prime source for both OT and NT theology. Whether the covenant, the holiness of God, or the concept of the people of God is the unifying factor of OT theology, each finds emphasis and remarkable definition in Deuteronomy." [Note: Earl S. Kalland, "Deuteronomy," in Deuteronomy-2 Samuel, vol. 3 of The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, p. 10.]
Like the other books of the Pentateuch, Deuteronomy is essentially a narrative document that was written to teach theology. There is a general alternation between narrative (sections I, III, V, and VII) and didactic (sections II, IV, and VI) material in Deuteronomy. [Note: See the outline of the book below.] However there is some mixture of narrative and didactic material in sections V and VII. Deuteronomy is essentially a story in which Moses included several of his sermons to the new generation of Israelites.
One can also divide the revelation in this book according to the general arrangement of the typical form of a suzerain-vassal treaty that was common in the ancient Near East. [Note: Kline, "Deuteronomy," p. 156.]
I. Preamble: Covenant mediator Deu_1:1-5
II. Historical prologue: Covenant history Deu_1:6 to Deu_4:49
III. Stipulations: Covenant life chs. 5-26
A. The Great Commandment chs. 5-11
B. Ancillary commandments chs. 12-26
IV. Sanctions: Covenant ratification chs. 27-30
V. Dynastic disposition: Covenant continuity chs. 31-34
I. Introduction: the covenant setting Deu_1:1-5
II. Moses’ first major address: a review of God’s faithfulness Deu_1:6 to Deu_4:40
III. Historical interlude: preparation for the covenant text Deu_4:41-49
IV. Moses’ second major address: an exposition of the law chs. 5-26
A. The essence of the law and its fulfillment chs. 5-11
1. Exposition of the Decalogue and its promulgation ch. 5
2. Exhortation to love Yahweh ch. 6
3. Examples of the application of the principles chs. 7-11
B. An exposition of selected covenant laws chs. 12-25
C. Covenant celebration, confirmation, and conclusion ch. 26
V. Preparations for renewing the covenant Deu_27:1 to Deu_29:1
VI. Moses’ third major address: an exhortation to obedience Deu_29:2 to Deu_30:20
B. A call to decision ch. 30
VII. Moses’ last acts chs. 31-34
D. Moses’ blessing of the tribes ch. 33
E. Moses’ death and burial: narrative epilogue ch. 34
One of the great messages of the Bible is that God desires to bless people through a relationship with Himself. The message of the Pentateuch is that people can experience this blessing through trust and obedience. Each of the five books of Moses reveals important truth concerning God, humankind, and the relationship of people and God.
Genesis reveals that man is a finite creature made in the image of God but fallen in sin. He is therefore unable on his own to enjoy the relationship with God that God created him to experience. Moses presented God in Genesis as trustworthy. The outstanding characteristic of God in this book is His faithfulness. God proved in this book that people can rely on His word. In order for people to have a relationship with God we must exercise faith. We must trust in God who is trustworthy.
Exodus shows that human sin leads to enslavement. To be free to enjoy liberty and the relationship with God that God intends human beings to experience, we must undergo redemption by God. Moses presented God in Exodus as being sovereign. This is His outstanding characteristic in the second book of Moses. Because God is sovereign He can redeem man who is a slave because of sin. He can bring man into an intimate relationship with Himself as His first-born son. Redemption is the provision of the sovereign God.
Leviticus reveals more fully that man is a sinner and that as such he is different from and separate from God. God is holy. This is the outstanding revelation of God in this book. Man cannot have the relationship with God that God desires, even as a redeemed person, because of sin. God provided atonement so God and redeemed sinners could have fellowship. Our response to God’s provision should be worship.
Numbers shows redeemed sinners enjoying the benefits of atonement but failing to trust and obey God. The outstanding characteristic of God in Numbers is His graciousness toward sinful human beings. He disciplines His own to teach them to obey Him because only then can they experience all the blessings that He wants them to enjoy.
Deuteronomy pictures redeemed man as a vassal or servant and God as a suzerain, lord, or master. This relationship exists by virtue of who God is (i.e., Creator and Redeemer) and who man is (i.e., creature and sinner). Deuteronomy reveals that God loves people, and we should love God. The relationship is not a formal, impersonal one but one that love motivates and sustains.
God manifested His love for Israel in the laws He gave her. Israel was to demonstrate love for God by her obedience to His laws. These laws were in the Mosaic Covenant, and God designed them to bring Israel into as close a relationship to Himself as possible.
The Pentateuch contains all the instruction necessary for the Israelites to enjoy an intimate relationship with God. In the historical books that follow we see how the principles revealed in the Pentateuch worked out or did not work out for Israel in her history. The Israelites’ trust and obedience determined this. God intended this example to be instructive for us (1Co_10:1-13; Rom_15:1-6; Hebrews 11). The same principles apply today, though the economy and laws under which we live are different from those under which Adam, Noah, Abraham, and Moses lived. Merrill provided a fine summary of the theology of the Pentateuch. [Note: Merrill, "A Theology . . .,," pp. 86-87.]
Whereas Deuteronomy is the last of the five books of Moses, critical scholars now tend to group it with the books of Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings more than with Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers. They refer to this body of books as the Deuteronomistic History, a term that the German scholar Martin Noth coined. This is due to the foundational nature of Deuteronomy as reflected in the presentation of the later history of Israel that these books present. Conservative scholars usually tie Deuteronomy in with Genesis through Numbers because of authorship and historical sequence. Many of them, however, also recognize that Deuteronomy provides the basis for the evaluation of the nation that Joshua through Kings presents. [Note: See Whybray, pp. 136-39.]
Deu_24:1-4 is a passage that is very important in the biblical teaching on divorce and remarriage. There are four problems that need solving for us to determine the correct interpretation of this passage.
What is the protasis (the clause that expresses the condition in a conditional sentence) and what is the apodosis (the clause that expresses the result)?
View #1: The protasis occurs in Deu_24:1 a, "When a man . . . uncleanness in her." The apodosis occurs in Deu_24:1-4, "then let him . . . for an inheritance" (as in the AV). God commanded divorce on the grounds of "uncleanness" in the wife. He prohibited remarriage to her first husband after the death of, or divorce by, her second husband.
View #2: The protasis occurs in Deu_24:1-3, "When a man . . . be his wife." The apodosis occurs in Deu_24:4, "then her former . . . as an inheritance" (as in the NASB, NIV, and RSV). God permitted divorce on the grounds of "indecency" in the wife. He also prohibited remarriage to her first husband after the death of, or divorce by, her second husband.
Evaluation: View #2 reflects the opinion of most translators concerning the proper protasis and apodosis relationship. Rather than commanding or encouraging divorce, as the Pharisees interpreted it in Jesus’ day, this passage therefore controlled or regulated how a man could obtain a divorce in Israel. It also condemned the practice of a woman remarrying her first husband after her second husband either died or divorced her.
What is the "indecency" for which a man could divorce his wife?
View #1: Some specific offense is in view. Scholars have suggested several. The possibilities include fornication, anything displeasing to her husband, inability to bear children, or some physical defect. Other options are indecent exposure, embarrassment caused to the husband by the wife’s social behavior, lesbianism (one type of fornication), or some other serious offense.
View #2: No specific offense is in view. Instead indecency refers to what the husband erroneously judged to be a legitimate ground for divorce. In other words God permitted divorce when the husband believed his wife had done something illegitimate even though she had not.
Evaluation: View #2 seems to be better for the following reasons. Adultery was punishable by death, so the indecency could hardly be that offense. The Jews debated the meaning of the term "indecency" in Jesus’ day. This probably indicates that no one understood it to refer to a specific offense even when God first gave it. If only one indecent act was in view, this statute would not cover divorce for other reasons. A woman could remarry her former husband only if the first marriage broke up for this specific cause. However this statute seems to be controlling all illegitimate divorce.
|This would mean God was making divorce easy.||God was not allowing just any divorce. This statute controls and protects the wife to a degree from any illegitimate divorce, not just one type of illegitimate divorce.|
|Lexically "indecent" can mean "indecent exposure."||This would be a rare cause of divorce and would limit greatly the application of this statute in Israelite life. The phrase "to uncover nakedness" is euphemistic and means "to have sex." If God meant indecent exposure, it would most likely involve sexual sin. This was for the most part punishable by death in Israel.|
|Could not lesbianism be in view?||The broad term "indecent" argues against such a limited interpretation. Furthermore the prescribed punishment for lesbians was execution in Israel (Lev_18:22; Lev_18:29).|
Why does the second marriage defile the wife?
View #1: She has had sex with another man.
View #2: Her status regarding her first husband changed from wife to sister when they got married. If she returned to her first husband (brother) after a second marriage, that union would be incestuous.
View #3: The divorce, not the second marriage alone, changed her status regarding her first husband irreversibly.
View #4: The second marriage constitutes adultery.
Evaluation: View #4 seems best for these reasons. If this passage indeed controls illegitimate divorce, there was no legitimate divorce in Israel. All such divorce would dissolve the first marriage. Therefore the consummation of the second marriage would be adulterous. The word "defiled" suggests adultery (Lev_18:20). Mat_5:32 supports this view. Jesus Christ indicated that a man who divorces his wife causes her to commit adultery. It is the remarriage that defiles, not the divorce.
|This view reads the New Testament (i.e., Mat_5:32) back into the Old Testament.||Progressive revelation has simply illuminated what the reason for the prohibition was. The Old Testament Israelite may not have understood fully the reason for the law, just the requirement. In Matthew 5 Jesus was clarifying the law (cf. Mat_5:17).|
|Remarriage did not bear a stigma as adultery in Israel, and God allowed it.||God conceded to remarriage in the same way He conceded to divorce. Both were taking place though God did not approve their practice. Jesus clarified that the spirit of the law was that remarriage after divorce was adultery. The fact that the Mosaic Law did not demand death for adultery under these conditions does not mean that adultery was non-existent. The Mosaic Law did not punish other illegitimate practices even though God did not approve of them. Some examples include a husband’s adultery against his wife (cf. Exo_20:14), polygamy, and concubinage. Other examples are prostitution except by a Hebrew girl (Deu_23:18) and incest between an uncle and niece (though the Law did punish incest between an aunt and nephew).|
|"Defiled" refers to incest, not adultery.||To reduce all references to sexual sin in Deuteronomy 24 to incest is improper. Moses also mentioned adultery, homosexuality, and bestiality in the context (cf. Leviticus 18; Lev_20:10-21). While marriage does create close family relationships with the in-laws, in Israel this did not rule out marrying an in-law. For example a man could marry his wife’s sister after his wife died (Lev_18:18), and a woman could marry her dead husband’s brother. Even if blood relations are in view in Lev_18:16; Lev_20:21, this does not mean the first husband and wife had become brother and sister as a result of their marriage.|
What was the purpose of Deu_24:1-4 and what are its implications?
View #1: The purpose was to discourage hasty divorce, and the implication is that divorce alone severs the marriage bond and allows legitimate remarriage.
View #2: The purpose was to prevent an incestuous marriage. The implication is that divorce and a subsequent remarriage change the marriage bond to a "one flesh" relationship of a different kind.
View #3: The purpose was to prevent a man from marrying a woman who had committed adultery against him. The implication is that both divorce and adultery together sever the marriage bond.
Evaluation: View #3 seems best for the following reasons. Normally an adulteress would die (under Mosaic Law) or her husband would divorce her (under Rabbinic law). In the case here the wife who commits adultery against her husband escapes punishment for two reasons. First, Moses viewed her husband as having caused her to be adulterous by divorcing her. Second, post-marital adultery is not the same crime as marital adultery. If the "defilement" had not dissolved or changed the original marriage bond, there is no reason the woman could not return to her first husband after her second husband died or divorced her. The law denied the first husband his ex-wife in the same way it would deny him an "outwardly" adulterous wife. An "outwardly" adulterous wife would be one who had committed adultery while married (cf. Mat_19:9).
|If the woman was guilty of adultery by remarrying she should suffer death by stoning.||It is the husband’s act of divorcing his wife that results in her remarrying and committing adultery. She could remarry under the Mosaic Law. Her adultery was not a violation of a solid marriage covenant but one that divorce had already flawed. Jesus agreed that such action constituted adultery (Mat_5:32). Only if the wife remarried or had sex with another man could she not return to her first husband.|
|Marriage is absolutely indissoluble (Gen_2:18; Gen_2:21-24).||It is not eternally indissoluble since death ends it (Rom_7:1-2; Mat_22:23-33). Whereas God wants marriage to be permanent He warned against ending it (Mat_19:6). Thus the breaking of the marriage bond before death is possible. Furthermore if marriage is indissoluble then there is no reason the wife should not return to her first husband. Moreover if marriage is indissoluble a woman who remarries would have two husbands. However the Mosaic Law did not tolerate polyandry. In addition, Jesus said the Samaritan woman "had," not "has," five husbands (Joh_4:18). Finally, if marriage is indissoluble then every remarriage after divorce is bigamous and illegal. It should end in annulment as an incestuous marriage would.|
The student of Deu_24:1-4 should divide it into two parts between verse 3 and verse 4. Verses 1-3 express the condition and verse 4 the result. If a man divorced his wife, the Mosaic Law did not permit him to remarry her if, after her divorce from him, she had married another man. The "indecency" in view that was the grounds for the divorce was not a specific offense for which the wife was guilty. It was any condition that the husband erroneously judged as suitable grounds for a divorce. A husband could divorce his wife for the flimsiest of reasons in Israel. A divorced woman was free to remarry in Israel. However if she remarried, the law viewed her remarriage as adultery. In the eyes of the law her first husband was responsible for her committing adultery since he had divorced her. Notwithstanding, she did not die as an adulteress because the law did not punish this form of adultery with death. Her adultery defiled the woman. She could not return to her first husband if her second husband divorced her (or, presumably, had died) because she had committed adultery against him. Divorce alone did not break the first marriage bond but both divorce and adultery (sexual relations with a man other than the first husband) did. God did not want the partners in this case to reestablish the first marriage.
As I have worked with several couples and individuals who were thinking about getting a divorce, I have noticed a pattern of behavior that is quite common.
1. One or both of the partners in the marriage feel frustrated. He or she thinks, "This is not what I want in my marriage."
2. He internalizes his frustration and thinks, "I should be able to handle this." If he can, he forgives wrongs done to him and accepts his imperfect mate as is.
3. If he cannot handle his frustrations, he fails to forgive.
4. His frustration then often turns into bitterness. He thinks, "I’m stuck. I don’t like you; you’ve hurt me." He may also think, "God is not answering my prayers."
5. Finally he explodes. He says, "I want out of this relationship! I can’t take it any longer!"
This problem has its roots in a failure to forgive. The person involved may not realize this, but this is usually the crucial issue.
Here is a procedure to try to help someone who has exploded, or is about to, to forgive his or her mate.
1. Go to the person. Tell him that you are concerned for his welfare, that you believe he is making a big mistake, and that you have his happiness and welfare at heart.
2. Encourage him to ventilate his feelings of frustration by telling you how he feels. Ask, "How do you feel about your marriage?"
3. Show him what has been happening in his life by pointing out the five steps outlined above, if these apply.
4. Help him to learn how to deal with his frustrations so they do not build up within him. This involves venting them to God, a friend, and or his spouse.
5. Motivate him to forgive his spouse by reminding him how much God has forgiven all of us. We all keep offending God, but He forgives us and remains committed to us. He has promised never to leave us. Furthermore He promises grace (help) so we can live one day at a time (2Co_12:9).
In view of how much God has forgiven us, we should forgive each other any and every offense.
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