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Bible Commentaries

Layman's Bible Commentary

Deuteronomy 26

Verses 1-19

Presentation of First Fruits and Tithes; Concluding Exhortation (26:1-19)

The collection of laws we have been surveying since the beginning of chapter 12 is rounded off by instructions concerning two ceremonies and a brief word of exhortation concerning obedience to all the laws commanded by God.

The first ceremony is meant to express gratitude to God for his gracious act of redemption from Egypt and for the gift of the Promised Land. First fruits of the soil are to be brought to the central sanctuary each year (presumably at the Feast of Weeks-16:9-12) and, through the priest officiating there, presented to God, from whose hand the gracious gifts have come. At that time a glad confession is to be uttered before the Lord, expressing gratitude for the miraculous deliverance from the Egyptian bondage and the gift of "a land flowing with milk and honey" (vs. 9).

The second ceremony commanded here is to fall in the year (the third year) when tithes are retained in the home community and given for the relief of the Levite, the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow (see 14:28-29). After the tithe is thus turned over to the needy, the Israelite is to appear at the central sanctuary (probably at the Feast of Booths) and declare before God that he has completely fulfilled the commandments concerning tithing. He is then to offer a prayer for God’s continued blessing on the people of Israel and the land God has given them.

The two confessions or declarations contained here (vss. 5-10 and 13-15) are of great interest. In language and style they appear more ancient than the Book of Deuteronomy itself. It is believed that they formed part of the ancient confessional liturgy of Israel, perhaps that of the Tabernacle before the construction of Solomon’s Temple.

Strikingly similar in content to the first of these confessions are Deuteronomy 6:20-24 and Joshua 24:2-13. These three passages recall God’s great saving acts in the history of Israel—from the time of the Patriarchs to the gift of the land under Joshua—acts which brought the community of Israel into existence. We have in these confessions the basic outline later developed into the narrative contained in Genesis to Joshua; or, to put it the other way around, we have in these confessional statements the content of these books in miniature. From very early times Israel recalled in acts of worship the mercies of God in the choice and redemption of Israel and in gratitude pledged obedience to his gracious will. Likewise, the Christian Church has recalled in hymns, creedal declarations, and the Lord’s Supper the deed of God in the gift of Jesus Christ and, as the New Israel created by him, has pledged loyalty to its risen Redeemer.

The concluding exhortation (vss. 16-19) may possibly come from the old ceremony of Covenant renewal (see the comment on 27:1-28:68). The words of these verses may have been spoken in the ritual after the laws had been read aloud and after the people had affirmed their willingness to obey them (see vs. 17). It is now pronounced that if the people are fully obedient, God will fulfill his Covenant promises: that Israel will be uniquely his own people; that the nation will be exalted among the nations; and that it will be a holy people.

Chapter 26 as a whole is an admirable conclusion to the section on "The Specific Terms of the Covenant Relationship" which began with chapter 12. The ceremonies here enjoined—including the words of remembrance to be spoken, the declaration of obedience, and the prayers to be offered—are meant to keep the laws of God fresh in the mind and to move the will to complete acceptance and obedience. We hear once more the appeal to Israel (and to ourselves) at the deepest levels of personal existence: "You shall therefore be careful to do them with all your heart and with all your soul" (repeated eight times in the book).

In concluding the discussion of chapters 12-26 three general observations may be helpful.

First, the material in chapters 12-26 is not civil law in the sense that we understand that term. It is the divine will for the life of man on its various sides. It is "torah," that is, "teaching," "guidance," "instruction," "direction." It is a way of life, commanded by God, which should be followed out of gratitude and wholehearted acceptance. Furthermore, the will of God is not only set forth here; it is preached. Reasons why God’s guidance should be followed are constantly suggested. This is not customary in civil codes. These laws belong to religion, not primarily to political and social science.

Second, the laws contained in these chapters fall into two basic types, known as apodictic law (categorical, policy law) and casuistic law (case or procedural law). The former type is found in the Ten Commandments and throughout chapters 12-26, where the divine demand is stated flatly and directly in the second person: "you shall not" or "you shall" (see, for example, ch. 14). This policy law sets forth the terms of the Covenant relationship. The God who entered into covenant with Israel defines the terms of that relationship. He speaks directly to his people and expects acceptance and obedience. The second type is concerned with specific cases and situations. It rests upon the fundamental principles enunciated in the apodictic law. Laws of this type begin with a conditional clause (introduced by "if" or "when"). (For illustrations see chapter 21.) This case-type law was the principal kind of law in the ancient Near East. Many of the cases presented in these chapters are obviously intended as representative of types of situations that arise. We have here no complete, detailed code of laws.

Third, it is important to note that the laws set forth in Deuteronomy are preponderantly person-centered rather than property-centered. Ancient law codes outside Israel were considerably more concerned with the protection of property rights and the regulation of economic affairs than were the Covenant laws of Israel. Here the dominant concern is with the God-man and the man-man relationships. It is assumed that if God and men live together in a fellowship of love and fidelity, economic relationships need not be governed by a highly detailed body of law. According to Deuteronomy, ethical behavior springs out of the dedicated and loving heart.

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Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on Deuteronomy 26". "Layman's Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/lbc/deuteronomy-26.html.