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Bible Commentaries

Ellicott's Commentary for English ReadersEllicott's Commentary

- Deuteronomy

by Charles John Ellicott






I. Analysis of the book.—Before entering into any discussion as to style, authorship, or particular difficulties, it is absolutely indispensable to have clearly before us the structure of the book in its present shape.

The book of Deuteronomy consists of—

(a) A TITLE (Deuteronomy 1:1-5, inclusive). This title is twofold, and states (1) that these words were spoken to all Israel by Moses between Sinai and Kadesh-barnea, in view of their first attempt at the conquest of Canaan; (2) that all this Law was declared (i.e., apparently redelivered and written; see Note on Deuteronomy 1:5) in the eleventh month of the fortieth year, immediately before they actually entered the country, and after Sihon and Og had already been overcome.

(b) AN INTRODUCTORY DISCOURSE (Deuteronomy 1:6; Deuteronomy 4:40 inclusive), followed by the appointment of three cities of refuge on the eastern side of Jordan, in the territory conquered by Moses. In this discourse Moses reviews Israel’s journey from Sinai to the banks of Jordan, for the purpose of exhortation, dwelling upon those points only which bear directly on the enterprise in prospect—the passage of Jordan, the conquest of the seven nations, and the position of the chosen people in the promised land.

(c) THE DEUTERONOMY PROPER, or repetition of the law (Deuteronomy 4:44 to end of 28).

This contains—


A title (Deuteronomy 4:44-49).


Repetition of the Decalogue (Deuteronomy 5:0).


Its Exposition, and this


generally, as creating a certain relation between the people of Israel and their God, who had given them this law (Deuteronomy 6-11).


which God was giving them. This land is considered


As the seat of the worship of Jehovah (Deuteronomy 12:1 to Deuteronomy 16:17).


As the seat of His kingdom (Deuteronomy 16:18 to end of 18).


As the sphere of operation of certain particular rules of person, property, society, and behaviour (Deuteronomy 19:0 to end of 26).

(4) Its Enactment, as the law of the land of promise, written on Mount Ebal, and enforced by blessings and cursings (Deuteronomy 27:0).

(5) Its Sanction in Israel, for all time, by a most tremendous denunciation of rewards and penalties, in force even to this day (Deuteronomy 28:0).

(d) THE SECOND COVENANT, which is to follow the Sinaitic covenant, and to redeem Israel from its curse, “the covenant which the Lord commanded Moses to make with the children of Israel in the land of Moab, beside the covenant which He made with them in Horeb (Deuteronomy 29, 30)

(e) CONCLUSION. Moses’s resignation of his charge to Joshua. Delivery of the law to the priests and elders, and of the book to the Levites (Deuteronomy 31:0). Moses’s last song (Deuteronomy 32:0), blessing (Deuteronomy 33:0), and death (Deuteronomy 34:0)

Hebrew Divisions of Deuteronomy.

The Jews have divided Deuteronomy into eleven portions, for reading in the synagogue. Seven of these comprise Deuteronomy 1:1 to Deuteronomy 29:8. The other four follow the chapters, viz., Deuteronomy 29:9 to end of 30, Deuteronomy 31:0, Deuteronomy 32:0, and lastly, Deuteronomy 33, 34.

The first seven portions are of an average length of six columns in Bagster’s Polyglot Bible. In no instance do they appear to mark any important logical division of the book, except in the case of that portion which begins with “judges and officers” (Deuteronomy 16:18). The companion lessons from the prophets are chiefly from Isaiah. Each division is named from its opening words in Hebrew. The complete list is given below.


D’barim, “The words,” Deuteronomy 1:1.


Va-ethchannan, “And I besought,” Deuteronomy 3:23.


‘Ekeb, “Because” (if), chap Deuteronomy 7:12.


R’eh, “Behold,” Deuteronomy 11:26.


Shôph’tim, “Judges,” Deuteronomy 16:18.


Thetzê, “Thou goest forth,” Deuteronomy 21:10.


Thâbo, “Thou comest in,” Deuteronomy 26:1.


Ni-tzâbim, “Standing,” Deuteronomy 29:8.


Vay-yêlek, “And went,” Deuteronomy 31:1.


Hâazînu, “Hear,” Deuteronomy 32:1.


V’zôth hab-berâkah, “And this is the blessing,” Deuteronomy 33:1.

The distinction between the covenants in Deuteronomy 28:29 has been obliterated by this division.

Further analysis of the specific enactments of Deuteronomy, Deuteronomy 12-26.

As these chapters have been recently made the subject of special criticism with a view to show that they stand apart from the rest of Deuteronomy and belong to a much later period than the Exodus, a special analysis and examination of their contents is given below.
The first thing that appears in these enactments of Deuteronomy is that all alike are laws of holiness. The principle is, “Ye shall be holy for I am holy.”

Secondly, they are laws of holiness for the land of Canaan regarded as the abode of Jehovah and His people. And the land is considered


As the seat of the worship of Jehovah (Deuteronomy 12:1 to Deuteronomy 16:17 inclusive). Here it is enacted that every monument of idolatry must be destroyed (Deuteronomy 12:2-4). The place of sacrifice and national worship must be chosen by Jehovah (Deuteronomy 12:5-14). What must be sacrificed and eaten there, and what may be slain and eaten elsewhere (Deuteronomy 12:15-28). Abolition of all idolatrous rites (Deuteronomy 12:29-32). Utter extermination of all prophets or promoters of idolatry (Deuteronomy 13:0). Personal purity of Jehovah’s worshippers, and especially from unclean animals in food (Deuteronomy 14:1-21). The second tithe, the holy food that either they or their poor must eat before Him (Deuteronomy 14:22-29). The poor law of His holy land (Deuteronomy 15:1-18). Law of firstlings (arising out of the Exodus) (Deuteronomy 15:19-23); and the three great feasts, beginning with the passover (Deuteronomy 16:1-17).


As the seat of the kingdom of Jehovah (Deuteronomy 16:18 to end of 18). Judges and officers in every city, to judge justly (Deuteronomy 16:18-20). No secret rites or images allowed therein (Deuteronomy 16:21-22). No unclean victims to be offered (Deuteronomy 17:1). “Offer it now unto thy governor, will he be pleased with thee, or accept thy person?” (Malachi 1:8). No idolaters to live (Deuteronomy 17:2-7). The written law to be supreme, whether with priest or judge or king; and the requirements of the kingdom (Deuteronomy 17:8-20). The requirements of the priest (Deuteronomy 18:1-5); of the Levite (Deuteronomy 18:6-8). No consultation with familiar spirits and no hidden arts to be permitted, but the Prophet to be above all (Deuteronomy 18:15-22).

Obviously these two sections delineate the constitution of Israel in two aspects, as a church, and as a state. These were not separated under the theocracy. From these two aspects of the land of Israel arise the following laws, namely:—


Laws concerning the Person in the Land of Jehovah.—Cities of refuge for the manslayer (Deuteronomy 19:1-10); punishment of the murderer (Deuteronomy 19:11-13); landmarks (Deuteronomy 19:14); witnesses (Deuteronomy 19:15-21); laws of warfare (Deuteronomy 20:0); undiscovered homicide (Deuteronomy 21:1-9); captive women (Deuteronomy 21:10-14); the firstborn’s birthright (Deuteronomy 21:15-17); the incorrigible son in Israel (Deuteronomy 21:18-21); the death penalty and the Divine image (Deuteronomy 21:22-23).

N.B.—It is remarkable how the precept given to Noah, “Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed, for in the image of God made he man,” embraces both the first and last laws of this section.


Laws concerning Property in the Land of Jehovah.—Lost property (Deuteronomy 22:1-4); distinction of dress for the sexes (Deuteronomy 22:5); the bird’s nest and its rights (Deuteronomy 22:6-7); the house (Deuteronomy 22:8); the vineyard (Deuteronomy 22:9); the plough (Deuteronomy 22:10); the clothing (Deuteronomy 22:11); and, lastly, the memorial fringe, by which to remember all the commandments of Jehovah (Deuteronomy 22:12, and comp. Numbers 15:37-41).

N.B.—The appropriateness of this precept, as closing a section, will be manifest on consideration.

(5) Laws concerning the Conjugal Relations of God’s People (Deuteronomy 22:13-30).

N.B.—Again it should be observed how the last verse of this chapter recalls the principle of Leviticus 18:6, &c.

(6) Laws concerning the Purity of the Congregation of Israel (Deuteronomy 23:1-8). For the sequence of (5) and (6) comp. Matthew 19:1-15.

(7) Laws concerning the Purity of the Camp in war (Deuteronomy 23:9-14).

(8) Divers Laws of Holiness, to preserve the Land of Jehovah as a Land of Humanity, Purity, and Truth.—Humanity to escaped slaves (Deuteronomy 23:15-16); purity from fornication and other deadly sin (Deuteronomy 23:17); “Without are dogs and whoremongers” (Deuteronomy 23:18); no usury (Deuteronomy 23:19-20); fidelity in vows (Deuteronomy 23:21-23); the right of wayfarers (Deuteronomy 23:24-25); conjugal fidelity (Deuteronomy 24:1-4); domestic felicity (Deuteronomy 24:5); humanity to the poor and friendless and fatherless (Deuteronomy 24:6-22), and to criminals (Deuteronomy 25:1-3), and to beasts (Deuteronomy 25:4), and to the childless dead, and to their widows (Deuteronomy 25:5-10), and in quarrels (Deuteronomy 25:11-12); honesty in trade (Deuteronomy 25:13-16); the cruel race of Amalek—the embodiment of inhumanity in Scripture—to be exterminated (Deuteronomy 25:17-18).

N.B.—With this section compare the miscellaneous precepts of Leviticus 19:0. The land and its inhabitants are hallowed, and we are told at last who “shall in no wise enter therein.” The precepts in this section would supply a complete parallel to Revelation 22:15 : “Without are dogs, and sorcerers, and whoremongers, and murderers . . . and whosoever loveth and maketh a lie.”

(9) The Services of Thanksgiving for the Inheritance given to Israel, which are prescribed in Deuteronomy 26:0. appropriately conclude this portion.

We are now in a position to discuss a further important question, namely—

II. The Date of the Deuteronomy.—The question, in its most recent aspect, especially concerns the portion we have just analysed—“the statutes and judgments” of Deuteronomy 12-25. The earlier and later portions of the book are admitted to be the work of Moses. But an attempt has been made to separate these specific enactments from the remainder of the book. It is maintained that these “statutes and judgments” are the product (a) of Israel’s maturity in Palestine, or rather of that period of national decay which resulted in the Babylonish captivity, or (b) of the restoration. The age of Jeremiah, or Ezekiel, or Ezra, has been suggested as the source of these precepts. Their position in Deuteronomy is ascribed to the hand of a later editor, who is said to have incorporated them with the work of Moses, and completed the Pentateuch in its present shape.

It is true that this theory does not require us to contradict a series of sentences such as “The Lord spake unto Moses, saying,” which we find prefixed to Mosaic enactments in the earlier books. The name of Moses does not occur in Deuteronomy 12-26. But these statutes and judgments are incorporated in the book as part of Moses’ exhortation; and he speaks in the first person in Deuteronomy 18:17 : “The Lord said unto me, They have well said that which they have spoken.” The portion opens with the words of Moses, in language that can bear no later date: “Ye are not yet come unto the rest and to the inheritance, which the Lord your God giveth you.” There is as yet no selected seat of worship. And it closes with words spoken in the name of Jehovah while Israel is still in the wilderness (Deuteronomy 26:1), and entering into covenant with Jehovah there (Deuteronomy 26:16-19). Thus we have Moses in Deuteronomy 12:18, Deuteronomy 12:26. The analysis already given shows the perfect unity and order of the whole portion. Where are the items that belong to a later date? By whose authority were they incorporated with the Mosaic code?

A code like this admits of being regarded in three different aspects. Two of them would belong to it more especially as the work of Moses; the third would have little importance in his hands, but would be essential in the view of those who ascribe these enactments to a later date. The law given here may be regarded (1) As an Ideal Code or Standard of Behaviour; (2) As a Prophetical Code, a Picture of a State of Things yet to be; (3) As a Practical Code, an Outcome or Expression of the Aspirations of a People at a certain Period of History.

Of these three, the (1) ideal and (2) prophetical code are almost necessarily the work of an individual working under the inspiration of a Higher Power. The code, regarded as (3) an expression of national taste and will, adjusts itself to the theory and practice of a certain age, and will never be far in advance of the actual morality of the period which gives it birth. To which of these three views do the statutes and judgments of Deuteronomy most easily adjust themselves? If the two first are prominent, we shall have obtained a strong presumption in favour of the Mosaic authorship, other things being supposed consistent therewith. If, on the other hand, the Deuteronomic code seems rather to reflect the practice of the people in later times, the presumption will be, so far, in favour of the modern theory to which we have alluded above.

Let us test the code in Deuteronomy in each of these three aspects. And let us take the last of the three first.


We have seen that the first section of the code (Deuteronomy 12:1 to Deuteronomy 16:17 ) contemplates the land of Israel as the seat of the worship of Jehovah; the second section (Deuteronomy 16:18, to end of Deuteronomy 18:0) contemplates it as the seat of His Kingdom. The remainder of the code gives rules of behaviour in detail—the laws of person, property, and relation among His people. To what period of history will these rules adjust themselves?

In the first section, the seat of worship is as yet not fixed. There is to be a “place” which Jehovan shall choose, but it is not yet chosen. The distance of this place from the borders of Israel is matter of uncertainty. The extent of the conquest is undefined. The abominations of Canaanitish idolatry are still unexplored by Israel. They are not known hitherto. The strictness of the enactments against idolatrous prophets and teachers is beyond anything ever heard of in practice, and is still matter of prophecy in the return from the exile (see Zechariah 13:2-3). Nothing like it, if we except the consternation occasioned by the erection of the altar Ed (Josh. xxii), is discernable in the general feeling of the nation of Israel—not only until after the exile, but even until after the close of the Old Testament. The law of release is named by Jeremiah only as being broken, and is by him expressly ascribed to the period of the Exodus ( Jeremiah 34:13). The three great feasts are to be celebrated annually, in the place which the Lord shall choose; but we are not told where.

All this is perfectly consistent with the standpoint of Moses “in the plains of Moab, by Jordan near Jericho.” But it is not easy to discover any other period which would suggest it, or even in which it would be intelligible. What writer of later date could so wholly ignore Shiloh, or Jerusalem, or Gerizim, or Samaria? Granting the possibility, with what purpose could he take such a view? Must not the alternative be between the Mosaic authorship and deliberate forgery?

I have never been able to realise the discrepancy regarding the place of sacrifice, which is alleged by some, between the rule of Exodus 20:0 on the one hand, and that of Deuteronomy 12:0 on the other. The choice of Jehovah makes the seat of worship in either passage. The seat of national worship will be (it is intimated) “in one of thy tribes.” But this does not preclude the acceptance by Jehovah of an occasional sacrifice in another place. The point is that He, and not the worshipper, must in every instance select that place. The nations worshipped where they would. Israel must “not do so unto the Lord their God.” (See Notes on Deuteronomy 12:0 for more on this subject.) We may say that in point of fact there was an intimate connection between the religious and political unity of Israel. Before the seat of government and religion was firmly established at Jerusalem, and while the country was still unsettled and disturbed, we find that sacrifices were accepted by Jehovah in various places, as from Gideon at Ophrah, from Manoah at Zorah, from Samuel at Bethlehem and elsewhere. Again, after the disruption, Elijah offered on Carmel—Jerusalem, from the nature of the case, being inaccessible to Israel. But when the kingdom of Samaria was perishing in the reign of Hezekiah, and still more when it had passed away in the reign of Josiah, these kings rightly exerted their authority to centralise the national worship, to which political disunion was no longer any bar.

Or let us take the second section of the code, in which the land of Israel is regarded as the seat of the government of Jehovah (Deuteronomy 16:18, to end of 18). The establishment of local courts of justice is ordered. We cannot conceive that Israel remained without them until the exile. In fact the “judges and officers” of Deuteronomy 16:18 were already appointed in the time of Joshua, and were summoned by him to the assembly which he convened before his death (Joshua 23:2). The presence of famous judges, kings, or prophets, may have occasionally fostered a tendency to over centralize the administration of justice (see 1 Samuel 8:1-3; 2 Samuel 15:4), but we cannot conceive the establishment of local courts, or the promulgation of Jethro’s admonitions against bribery (see Notes on Deuteronomy 16:19) as having been deferred until the exile or the return. The enactment against groves and pillars (enforced by Joshua, Deuteronomy 23:0, upon these judges and officers) is not likely to have originated at a time when altars of Baal were as numerous as the very streets. The fact that Hezekiah and Josiah (almost alone in all history) were found to carry out the instructions of Deuteronomy will not prove that these instructions originated with them. That their work was done in the face of popular feeling is clear from the immediate restoration of idolatry by Manasseh, and by the successors of Josiah. The code against idolatry was certainly not the expression of popular feeling at that date.

It is noticeable that twice over in Deuteronomy 13:0 it is enacted that the teacher of idolatry shall be put to death “because he hath sought to thrust thee away from the Lord thy God which brought thee out of the land of Egypt” (Deuteronomy 13:5; Deuteronomy 13:10). No later deliverance is alluded to. But even Joshua’s exhortation against idolatry records later experiences than this (Joshua 24:8-13).

The form of government in Israel, as depicted in Deuteronomy 17:18, shows as little fixity as the seat of national worship. “The priests the Levites, and the judge that shall be in those days,” are not expressions that we can assign to any given period of Israel’s history in Canaan. Natural enough, as coming from the lips of Moses, they are almost ludicrous as an expression of the national desire for a particular rule. The position of the king is depicted even more vaguely. We have observed in the Notes on Deuteronomy 17:0, that no later writer could have ignored the throne of David thus. And if Jeremiah foretold the cessation of the kingdom (Jeremiah 22:30), how could the age of Jeremiah have given birth to the laws that concern the king? Again, the relation of the prophet to the government is left far too uncertain for later Jewish history. When we consider the important part played by the priests in Judah from Jehoiada onwards, and the evident struggle for religious supremacy between them and the kings, with the equally important action of the prophets in Israel, is it conceivable that any constitutional writer of the date of Jeremiah or the exile, would have left us the bare outline that we find in Deuteronomy 17:18? Not less important is the position given to the written law in Deuteronomy 17:8-13. It was absolutely essential to define this when Scripture first came into existence. If not settled then, when could it be? It agrees with what we find in the opening of Joshua (see notes on Joshua 1:1-8), and whenever allusion is made to Scripture in later times. But that Scripture should be solemnly delivered to God’s people and be preserved among them, and its authority remain for seven centuries wholly undefined, is inconceivable. Yet the definition is entirely suited to the period when nothing but the law had been written down.

But if, on the other hand, it is asserted that these views of the church and state of Israel proceeded not from national feeling at the time of the Exile or the Return, but from the mind of some great reformer, some individual prophet, we may fairly demand an explicit answer to the question, who that prophet or reformer might be? If Jeremiah, or Ezekiel, or Ezra is to be taken as the author of the code in Deuteronomy, we are brought face to face with the question of style and language. The language of Deuteronomy is totally distinct from the extant writings of all these. And if the author of Deuteronomy is an anonymous writer, a new difficulty presents itself. By what authority did he promulgate these laws, and how did he contrive to get them accepted, not only as canonical Scripture, but as the work of the great national Lawgiver? For “there arose not a prophet since in Israel like unto Moses.”
From these considerations it seems certain that the view of the church and state of Israel in Palestine, given in Deuteronomy 12-18 inclusive, is not that of any later period than the Exodus. The laws of person, property, social relation, and behaviour, given in chapters 19 to 26, remain to be examined. In these laws the standpoint of the wilderness is no less conspicuous than in the more general principles laid down before. The law of the manslayer comes first. Its date is fixed beyond dispute by the cities of refuge. Three are not noticed; for they are already determined on the east of Jordan (Deuteronomy 4:41-43). Three on the west of Jordan are still to be separated, in the territory conquered by Joshua. Three more are regarded as possibly necessary in the future. But they have never been assigned yet (see notes on Deuteronomy 19:8-10). With what period of history is this piece of legislation consistent, except the last days of Moses’s life?

We come next to the laws of warfare (chap 20), and we find the nations of Canaan still mentioned as unconquered. The distinction given between “the cities that are very far off,” and the cities of the doomed nations, is the very same upon which the Gibeonites traded as that which Jehovah had given to His servant Moses (Joshua 9:24), and by which they contrived to save themselves from the sword of Joshua. Was the passage in Deuteronomy constructed from that in Joshua? If so, the plea of the Gibeonites still proves the antiquity of this distinction. Or was the passage in Joshua fashioned to suit an enactment which was the production of a later date? Take the law in Deuteronomy as the genuine work of Moses, and the narrative in Joshua as true, and the agreement is perfect. It is difficult to devise any other hypothesis which will account for either the history or the law.

The laws of Deuteronomy 21:0 bear the stamp of antiquity on their very face. The last of them, which concerns hanging, again supplies a striking coincidence with the life of Joshua, who hanged the kings of Jericho, and Ai, and the five kings of the southern confederacy upon trees until eventide, and buried them at sunset. The agreement with Joshua’s practice is perfect. There is little notice of the practice of hanging in Israel in later times. We know that the Assyrians constantly left the bodies of their enemies impaled on stakes and exposed to view between the earth and heaven, but there is no proof that any such practice ever obtained in Israel. “The kings of the house of Israel are merciful kings,” was the consolation of the defeated Syrian monarch Ben-hadad (1 Kings 20:31). Would he have trusted himself to the hands of a king of Assyria, as confidently as he surrendered himself to Ahab? The Gibeonites who hanged Saul’s sons in Gibeah observed no such restriction as that which Moses commanded in Deuteronomy 21:23 (see 2 Samuel 21:9-10). The strict observance of this law by Joshua, and its neglect in the days of David, are entirely consistent with other examples of a similar kind.

The laws of property and conjugal relation in Deuteronomy 22:0 are an expansion of the code in Exodus and Leviticus. There is no inconsistency. But some of the details are unmistakably primitive, and point to a time when the country was very thinly peopled. They are suitable to the time of the first conquest by Joshua—not so suitable to later days.

When we come to the laws concerning the admission of strangers or proselytes (Deuteronomy 22:0) we find unquestionable traces of the Lawgiver of the Exodus.

The Ammonites and Moabites “met not Israel with bread and water” They hired Balaam to curse” the people. The part taken by the Ammonites in this enterprise is not recorded in Numbers. The details cannot be obtained from the narrative as given there. The considerations urged in verse 7 are suitable to a time when the memory of Egypt was fresh. The words spoken by Isaiah concerning proselytes (Isaiah 56:6-7) are wholly different in character. And these very clauses of Deuteronomy are cited in Nehemiah (Nehemiah 13:1-2) as written in the book of Moses.

There remains only one more section to be considered—the laws of humanity in Deuteronomy 24, 25. Here once more the personal recollections of the Exodus, concerning Miriam and Amalek, are striking, and cannot be ascribed to any later date. The law that the children shall not die for the fathers (Deuteronomy 24:16) is directly referred to in 2 Kings 14:6, as written in the book of the Law of Moses. Other details in this portion which point to a primitive state of society have been indicated in the notes.

The twenty-sixth chapter, with its services of thanksgiving on the entrance of Israel into Canaan, would lose all the peculiar charm of freshness that it possesses, if it were ascribed to a later date. From the lips of Moses it is singularly beautiful and appropriate, all the more when we remember his own eager desire to enter the land of promise—a desire which was not granted. The reference to Jacob as “a Syrian ready to perish” is thoroughly natural in the historian of Genesis, and the whole thanksgiving is itself a reflection of Jacob’s words in Genesis 32:10. But there is no reference to any experience later than the Exodus. And the mind that would place the origin of such a service in the time of Jeremiah, or after the exile, must be strangely constituted.

If, then, the laws of Deuteronomy 12-26 in all these particulars evidently breathe the very air of the Exodus, and of that particular scene to which they are ascribed, what becomes of the view that they are the offspring of a later date? If we take away all that evidently bears the stamp of primitive authorship, is there anything in the remainder that necessarily bears a different stamp? The supposed disagreement in the edicts regarding tithes is refuted by Jewish practice. The second tithe is an institution peculiar to Deuteronomy. It does not contradict the law in Numbers, because it is a matter wholly distinct. It is the second tithe, not the first; a holy thing, and not a common rate. The Jewish commentator Rashi speaks almost with derision of those who would confuse the two. The supposed difficulty concerning the priesthood is sufficiently met by the undesigned but explicit allusion to the rebellion of Numbers 16:0, in Deuteronomy 11:6, not to mention the Thummim and Urim in Deuteronomy 33:8.

There is also a further reason why the author of Deuteronomy should be comparatively silent regarding the special duties and position of the priests, except in relation to that which was now for the first time delivered to Israel—the book of the law of God. The priests themselves were there to guard their rights. They were a family established by the highest sanction in a place of unapproachable dignity and authority in Israel. Moses could not touch the subject without reverting to the memory of his departed brother (only six months dead) at every moment. Eleazar and Phinehas were now the guardians of Aaron’s post.

We now revert to (1) THE IDEAL CODE.

When we consider the Law of Deuteronomy as an ideal and prophetical code, our task becomes much easier. The commandments here given cannot be observed in the letter without the spirit of loving fidelity to Jehovah. The attempt to reduce them to a system, and guard them from disobedience in the smallest detail, resulted in the unbearable yoke of our Lord’s time, of which we have the tradition in the Talmud. It cannot be said that the exhortations of Deuteronomy contain in themselves any such system. But no law can create in any people a higher standard of practice than is conformable to their nature. “What the Law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh,” was to make its ideal the practical standard of behaviour. Even if the outward enactments are not infringed, the motive so constantly inculcated could never become the law of the human heart, except spontaneously; and this requires the “new creation.” “I will put my laws into their minds, and write them on their hearts.” “Thou shalt surely give him” is a right which the Law may enforce. “Thine heart shall not be grieved when thou givest unto him” (Deuteronomy 15:10) is beyond the power of law to insure. “It shall not seem hard unto thee when thou sendest him away free from thee” is a similar sentence (Deuteronomy 15:18). “If thou shalt keep all these commandments to do them, which I command thee this day, to love the Lord thy God, and to walk ever in his ways” (Deuteronomy 19:9), proves that in the details of the Law no less than in its general exposition, “the end of the commandment was love.”

If this ideal aspect of Deuteronomy is recognised, we may at once set aside the notion that it was the mere expression of the national taste and will. Such ideals come, not from below, but from above. The heart of man, under the direct teaching of the Spirit of God, may receive them; they were never formed by any process of abstraction and generalization, from the common practice of any nation of mankind.

When it is proved that the view of man’s destiny given in Genesis 1:26, and his primæval state in Paradise as described in Genesis 2:0, were the laboured attainment of ages of human progress, then we may admit the first great commandment to have been evolved in the same way. The fall of Israel is interwoven with the whole of sacred history as closely as the fall of man. Was this exalted standard of behaviour—the highest ever inculcated upon mankind—a Divine revelation in the beginning of their history, or did it arise in the dark days when Jehovah said, “Though Moses and Samuel stood before me, yet my mind could not be toward this people; cast them out of my sight, and let them go forth?” (Jeremiah 15:1). To ask the question almost answers it. The whole analogy of sacred history requires the ideal code of Israel to stand at the beginning of their national life. The shadow of Sinai stretches over the whole length of the ages from the Exodus of Israel to the Exodus of Christ. But if it is urged that though the outlines of the code in Deuteronomy may be primitive, yet the details are modern, and were gradually developed during the course of Israelitish history, we may fairly demand to have these later details distinctly pointed out. After close examination, we have failed to discover them even in the alleged discrepancies between the Deuteronomy and other portions of the law. The Jewish Mishna supplies an abundance of details of the kind that arise in a long and laboured application of legal principles to particular cases. The language of Deuteronomy is singularly free from the kind of detail suggested by practical difficulties in the application of the law. It is singularly free from any trace of contact with the history of Israel in later times.

It remains to consider (2) THE PROPHETICAL CODE.

Closely connected with the ideal aspect of Deuteronomy is the prophetical character of the code. That the ideal has not been realised is as certain as anything in history. Was it intended to be? and, if so, when? The book of Deuteronomy itself supplies a somewhat remarkable answer to this question in two passages, which are given here at length, and side by side, for the purpose of comparison.



(16) And the LORD said unto Moses, Behold, thou shalt sleep with thy fathers; and this people will rise up, and go a whoring after the gods of the strangers of the land, whither they go to be among them, and will forsake me, and break my covenant which I have made with them. (17) Then my anger shall be kindled against them in that day” and I will forsake them, and 1 will hide my face from them, and they shall be devoured, and many evils and troubles shall befall them; so that they will say in that day, Are not these evils come upon us, because our God is not among us? (18) And I will surely hide my face in that day for all the evils which they shall have wrought, in that they are turned unto other gods. (19) Now therefore write ye this song for you, and teach it the children of Israel: put it in their mouths, that this song may be a witness for me against the children of Israel. (20) For when I shall have brought them into the land which I sware unto their fathers, that floweth with milk and honey; and they shall have eaten and filled themselves, and waxen fat; then will they turn unto other gods, and serve them, and provoke me. and break my covenant. (21) And it shall come to pass, when many evils and troubles are befallen them, that this song shall testify against them as a witness; for it shall not be forgotten out of the mouths of their seed: for I know their imagination which they go about, even now, before I have brought them into the land which I sware.

(1) And it shall come to pass, when all these things are come upon thee, the blessing and the curse, which I have set before thee, and thou shalt call them to mind among all the nations, whither the LORD thy God hath driven thee, (2) and shalt return unto the LORD thy God, and shalt obey his voice according to all that I command thee this day, thou and thy children, with all thine heart, and with all thy soul; (3) that then the LORD thy God will turn thy captivity, and have compassion upon thee, and will return and gather thee from all the nations, whither the LORD thy God hath scattered thee. (4) If any of thine be driven out unto the outmost parts of heaven, from thence will the LORD thy God gather thee, and from thence will he fetch thee: (5) and the LORD thy God will bring thee into the land which thy fathers possessed, and thou shalt possess it; and he will do thee good, and multiply thee above thy fathers. (6) And the LORD thy God will circumcise thine heart, and the heart of thy seed, to love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, that thou mayest live. (7) And the LORD thy God will put all these curses upon thine enemies, and on them that hate thee, which persecuted thee. (8)And thou shalt return and obey the voice of the LORD, and do all his commandments which I command thee this day.

It appears from Deuteronomy 31:0 that the constitution given to Israel by Moses would be immediately violated, and that this fact was well known beforehand. From Deuteronomy 30:0 it is no less manifest that the great Lawgiver foresaw a time when Israel would return and repent after great affliction, and that they would then be restored, and keep the law perfectly (see verses 6 and 8 above).

Under what circumstances this event will take place, and how far the precepts of the Deuteronomy may hereafter be literally observed, it is perhaps impossible to determine.
The full answer to this question is one of “the secret things that belong to the Lord.” But we may obtain an approximation to the answer thus: The whole of the Deuteronomic code is presented as an expansion of the Decalogue. It is the application of a sermon, of which the “ten words” spoken on Sinai are the text. It is the application of these words to Israel, God’s chosen people, in the promised land. Every particular application of the Divine Law must be temporary in detail. The more perfectly the code is suited to a given condition of affairs, the more transitory its application to the minutiœ of daily life must necessarily be. So long as the times are changeable, the permanent code must be somewhat general, from the very nature of the case.

The most curious instance of a prophetical code in Scripture is the code of Law given for Ezekiel’s temple in the latter portion of his prophecy. I cannot find that this code was ever held by the Israelites to have the full force of law. It could not be fulfilled in all particulars, from the very nature of the case, except under certain conditions. That its promulgation as law was contingent on the moral condition of the people, seems clear from Ezekiel 43:10-11. “If they be ashamed of all that they have done, show them the form of the house, and . . . all the laws thereof: and write it in their sight, that they may keep the whole form thereof, and all the ordinances thereof, and do them.” No one can prove that the laws of Ezekiel’s temple have ever been kept; nor is it possible to say how far they ever will be observed in the shape in which they were delivered, for the supposition of the sentence just quoted is, that these laws were suitable to the state of Israel at the time. If they were not minded to receive them, the fulfilment must be deferred. Supposing them not to be “ashamed of all that they had done “for more than twenty centuries after Ezekiel wrote, the fulfilment of Ezekiel’s ideal must take place under wholly different circumstances; and many of its details must of necessity be modified to suit the change of times.

It is needless to add that the comparison between this portion of Ezekiel and the code in Deuteronomy cannot affect the question of the date of the Deuteronomy in any way.
The code in Deuteronomy is not so visibly prophetical as the ritual of Ezekiel’s temple, because the foundation of the code in Deuteronomy is not an outward visible fact. But it is none the less true that the standard of morality in Deuteronomy is unattainable except under one condition, and that is “that the heart of Israel should be circumcised to love Jehovah their God with all their heart and with all their soul.” As the ritual of Ezekiel’s temple is impossible without the temple itself, so is the morality of Deuteronomy unattainable without this heart-circumcision. This is provided by the second covenant, the covenant made in the land of Moab, “besides the covenant in Horeb,” which still holds Israel under its curse.

Manifestly the true fulfilment of the Deuteronomy in Israel requires a national and spiritual restoration of the Jews.
It is worth while to observe that the whole Decalogue is, literally and verbally, a prediction of its own fulfilment. The ten commandments, with the exception of the fifth, are all in the future indicative. The two great commandments are both future indicative. “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God . . . and thy neighbour,” contains “thou wilt love him,” as the stronger contains the weaker form of speech. “Ye shall be therefore perfect,” in Matthew 5:48, contains, Ye will be. If “one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, until it is all done,” all carried out in fact (Matthew 5:18), then clearly He who gave it signified in the same breath His intention that men should keep it; and, if His word shall not pass away, the Law will one day be kept, not merely in those literal details which must vary with every change of times and manners, but in spirit and in truth.

Actual predictions in the laws of Deuteronomy are not wanting. More especially we may refer to the prophecy of the prophet like unto Moses in Deut. 38, and the well-known prophecies in Deuteronomy 28:32-33. I do not think the law concerning the king in Deuteronomy 17:0 is necessarily a prediction. It seems to me that any thoughtful man who had watched the development of the nations descended from Terah, as Moab, Ammon, Edom, or Midian, must have foreseen that Israel would not remain long in Palestine without feeling the necessity for a form of government which other nations could recognise, and by which national intercourse could be maintained—a government embodied in some responsible and perpetual representative head. So far from feeling any difficulty in the mention of a king in Deuteronomy , 1 apprehend that no man who attempted to frame a constitution for the people in the country which God was about to give them, could possibly have avoided the question whether there should be a king or not. And if the king was mentioned, some sketch of his authority and its limitations could not be left out. What more do we actually find in Deuteronomy 17:0? That the relation of the Church to the written Word of God should be there delineated for all time (see Note on Deuteronomy 17:8-12) seems to me a very much more remarkable indication of prophetic insight, and of the mind of a “man of God.

III. Unity of the Book of Deuteronomy.—Upon the whole, the result of this examination and analysis of the several parts of Deuteronomy, is to produce a strong impression of the unity and symmetry of the whole. The middle portion is found to be quite as suitable to the date of the Exodus, in respect of its subject matter, as the earlier and later portions of the book. But when we come to consider the

IV. Style of the language in which it is written, and especially of the Hebrew original, the probability already established rises almost to the certainty of demonstration. The style of the Hebrew of Deuteronomy is unique. It is to all other Hebrew what the Latin of the Augustan age and the purest Attic Greek are to later stages and imitations of those two classic tongues. The poetry of David, the proverbs of Solomon, the visions of Isaiah, the lamentations of Jeremiah, and the polished Hebrew of Ezekiel, all have their separate beauties. The style of Deuteronomy bears no resemblance whatever to any of them—far less to the mixture of Hebrew and Chaldee which we find in Ezra, or the imitated Hebrew of the latest prophete. While there are undoubted archaisms in Deuteronomy (the words for “he” and “she” are not distinguished in the Pentateuch, and similarly the word for “damsel” of Deuteronomy 22:15 to end, is not to be distinguished from the common word for a “boy,” except by the pointing), yet the diction throughout is that of a highly-educated and cultivated mind. There is no difference whatever between the Hebrew of the middle portion and that of the rest of the book. And the occurrence of Deuteronomic phrases; in Jeremiah or elsewhere, does not touch the argument. Quotations from the Bible in a volume of sermons do not prove the Bible to have been made up from them. The setting of the phrases is a matter of quite as much importance, as the occurrence of the phrases themselves. Even when judged by the concordance, the Hebrew of Deuteronomy will be found distinct from that of the prophets. And it must be remembered that no concordance ever exhibits a writer’s style. The most it can do is to analyse his vocabulary. It can tell us little or nothing of the structure of his thoughts. Further, the application of one uniform system of vowel-pointing, accentuation, and division, to the whole of the prose of the Old Testament, has tended greatly to obscure the characteristic differences of the Hebrew writers. No one who has not read passages from several Hebrew writers without vowel-points, could at all imagine what a difference the absence of these makes to the perceptibility of the style. It is to be feared that too much of the attention of modern commentators has been absorbed by the external dress and uniform of the Hebrew of the Old Testament to allow them to perceive what the style of a Hebrew writer really is. Unless some excuse of this kind may be made, I find myself wholly unable to conceive how the Hebrew of Deuteronomy can be attributed by scholars to any known writer among the later prophets. The style of Joshua alone bears any resemblance to it. The ruggedness of Samuel and David, notwithstanding all David’s command of language, exhibits a most remarkable diversity.

The culture of the prophets is wholly different from that which we find in the Pentateuch. At the same time it is very possible that the Hebrew style of Moses was peculiarly his own. It may well be supposed to have been above the level of the common language of the nation. The early Egyptian education and varied experience of Moses would tend to produce a somewhat special mode of thought and expression.

V. Commentaries on Deuteronomy.—I regret that the time allotted to me for this work has not permitted me to make use of modern commentaries to any appreciable extent. Canon Espin’s notes in the Speaker’s Commentary I found useful. I thought it my duty to pay special attention to modern critical theories about later authorship, and in order to test them I found it necessary to ascertain somewhat precisely what the Jewish view of the various enactments in Deuteronomy was. I therefore read Rashi’s commentary carefully throughout, and in all cases of difficulty, consulted other Jewish writers also. The references to the Talmud in Rashi are numerous; and these, in many instances, I verified. In particular the alleged discrepancy concerning the laws of tithe was entirely cleared up to my mind by this means. I am satisfied that no contradiction between Deuteronomy and the earlier books of the Pentateuch can be reasonably maintained.

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