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The Covenant Stipulations, Covenant Making at Shechem, Blessings and Cursings (Deuteronomy 12:1 to Deuteronomy 29:1 ).
In this section of Deuteronomy we first have a description of specific requirements that Yahweh laid down for His people. These make up the second part of the covenant stipulations for the covenant expressed in Deuteronomy 4:45 to Deuteronomy 29:1 and also for the covenant which makes up the whole book. They are found in chapters 12-26. As we have seen Deuteronomy 1:1 to Deuteronomy 4:44 provide the preamble and historical prologue for the overall covenant, followed by the general stipulations in chapters 5-11. There now, therefore, in 12-26 follow the detailed stipulations which complete the main body of the covenant. These also continue the second speech of Moses which began in Deuteronomy 5:1.
Overall in this speech Moses is concerned to connect with the people. It is to the people that his words are spoken rather than the priests so that much of the priestly legislation is simply assumed. Indeed it is remarkably absent in Deuteronomy except where it directly touches on the people. Anyone who read Deuteronomy on its own would wonder at the lack of cultic material it contained, and at how much the people were involved. It concentrates on their interests, and not those of the priests and Levites, while acknowledging the responsibility that they had towards both priests and Levites.
And even where the cultic legislation more specifically connects with the people, necessary detail is not given, simply because he was aware that they already had it in writing elsewhere. Their knowledge of it is assumed. Deuteronomy is building on a foundation already laid. In it Moses was more concerned to get over special aspects of the legislation as it was specifically affected by entry into the land, with the interests of the people especially in mind. The suggestion that it was later written in order to bring home a new law connected with the Temple does not fit in with the facts. Without the remainder of the covenant legislation in Exodus/Leviticus/Numbers to back it up, its presentation often does not make sense from a cultic point of view.
This is especially brought home by the fact that when he refers to their approach to God he speaks of it in terms of where they themselves stood or will stand when they do approach Him. They stand not on Sinai but in Horeb. They stand not in the Sanctuary but in ‘the place’, the site of the Sanctuary. That is why he emphasises Horeb, which included the area before the Mount, and not just Sinai itself (which he does not mention). And why he speaks of ‘the place’ which Yahweh chose, which includes where the Tabernacle is sited and where they gather together around the Tabernacle, and not of the Sanctuary itself. He wants them to feel that they have their full part in the whole.
These detailed stipulations in chapters 12-26 will then be followed by the details of the covenant ceremony to take place at the place which Yahweh has chosen at Shechem (Deuteronomy 27:0), followed by blessings and cursings to do with the observance or breach of the covenant (Deuteronomy 28:0).
VI SUBMISSION AND TRIBUTE TO THE OVERLORD (Deuteronomy 26:1-5.26.15 ).
The detailed covenant stipulations having been laid out the call now goes out to offer due tribute to their Overlord through the offering of firstfruits and the special third year tithe.
Chapter 26 Submission To And Offering Tribute To Their Overlord.
Having covered the regulations of what their Overlord required of them (12-25) Moses now moves on to their submission and offering of tribute to Him. This tribute is specifically in terms of the land that has been given to them and is proportionate to its fruitfulness.
He deals with two main offerings, beginning with the offering of the firstfruits at the Sanctuary (Deuteronomy 18:4) at the Feast of Sevens (Weeks - see Exodus 23:16; Exodus 34:22; Leviticus 23:17; Numbers 28:26) as a kind of rental and act of worship, and as an acknowledgement to Him of His goodness in giving them the land (Deuteronomy 26:1-5.26.11), followed later by the confirmation at the Sanctuary (‘before Yahweh your God’ - Deuteronomy 26:13) of the offering of the third year tithe (Deuteronomy 14:28-5.14.29) of which they had kept nothing back (Deuteronomy 26:12-5.26.15). Their submission was then complete. Moses then closes off the whole section with a reminder of what their submission meant (Deuteronomy 16-19).
Both of these are in a sense new offerings, the first because never before have they had such an abundance of first fruits of this kind to offer. The second because it is an extension of the tithe, arising again because of the abundance of the fruit of the land. Both are tributes for this wonderful new land that He is giving them.
There is here again a connection with Deuteronomy 12:0, something which we also saw in the previous verse (Deuteronomy 25:19), for in verse 2 they are to go to the place which Yahweh will choose in order to bring Him their offerings (compare Deuteronomy 12:5-5.12.7; Deuteronomy 12:11; Deuteronomy 12:17). So this in a sense takes up from that point. Deuteronomy 12:0 had introduced the idea and Deuteronomy 26:0 reveals its fulfilment. But we should note that neither the firstfruits nor the tithe of the third year are mentioned in Deuteronomy 12:0 (although tithes and firstlings are). That was concerned with worship offerings. These too are worship offerings, but we have here also a new element, the offering of tribute to the Overlord for the gift of His land.
There is also connection with chapters 1-11 in the declaration concerning ‘the land which Yahweh swore to our fathers to give us’ (compare Deuteronomy 1:8; Deuteronomy 6:10; Deuteronomy 6:18; Deuteronomy 6:23; Deuteronomy 7:13; Deuteronomy 8:1; Deuteronomy 9:5; Deuteronomy 10:11; Deuteronomy 11:9; Deuteronomy 11:21).
But it should be noted that in Deuteronomy 12:0 there is no reference either to the firstfruits or the third year tithe. The offerings described there were the ones which were already being offered by the Israelites at the time when Moses was speaking, although the tithes and firstlings did point to them. These then are specifically new in order to celebrate the coming reception of the land.
So the two chapters Deuteronomy 12:0 and Deuteronomy 26:0 clearly provide the framework for what has been described in between, with the former emphasising the worship of Yahweh overall, and the latter stressing tribute and worship for the land. But chapter 26 is also preparatory to what follows, for having offered their tribute the blessing and cursings of the covenant must be declared and the covenant must be renewed, witnessed and sealed. This chapter demands a response from the Overlord and the renewal of the covenant.
The aspect of submission comes out especially in three declarations, the first in verse 3, the second larger one in Deuteronomy 26:5-5.26.10, and the third in Deuteronomy 26:13-5.26.15. In them they acknowledge Yahweh’s provision from the land and declare their openly revealed loyalty to Him revealed in the tribute that they have brought. To which Moses responds on behalf of Yahweh in Deuteronomy 26:16-5.26.19.
These submissions will not, of course, both occur at the same time. Assuming that the offering of the firstfruits would begin, if only in a primitive way, once they had first entered the land and had been able to plant and grow crops, the firstfruits would be offered at the Feast of Sevens beginning with the first harvest after entering the land, at least a year after entry, while the offering of the third year tithe could not by its nature be offered until the third year. On the other hand the tribes to the east of Jordan might have firstruits earlier. But they would be required to fit into the pattern of the third year tithe.
The Offering of the Firstfruits (Deuteronomy 26:1-5.26.11 ).
The offering of the firstfruits was to take place at the Feast of Sevens when the harvest had hopefully been gathered in. Here Israel were commanded to gather their firstfruits once they were in the land and bring them to Yahweh at the place that He will choose, declaring their gratitude to Him as they acknowledged what He had done for them, and placing their tribute before Him.
Analysis in the words of Moses:
a And it shall be, when you are come in to the land which Yahweh your God gives you for an inheritance, and possess it, and dwell in it, that you shall take of the first of all the fruit of the ground, which you shall bring in from your land that Yahweh your God gives you, and you shall put it in a basket, and shall go to the place which Yahweh your God shall choose, to cause his name to dwell there (Deuteronomy 26:1-5.26.2).
b And you shall come to the priest who will be in those days, and say to him, “I declare this day to Yahweh your God, that I am come to the land which Yahweh swore to our fathers to give us” (Deuteronomy 26:3).
c And the priest shall take the basket out of your hand, and set it down before the altar of Yahweh your God (Deuteronomy 26:4).
d And you shall answer and say before Yahweh your God, “A wandering Aramaean (or ‘an Aramaean ready to perish’) was my father, and he went down into Egypt, and sojourned there, few in number, and he became there a nation, great, mighty, and populous” (Deuteronomy 26:5).
d “And the Egyptians dealt ill with us, and afflicted us, and laid on us hard bondage, and we cried to Yahweh, the God of our fathers, and Yahweh heard our voice, and saw our affliction, and our toil, and our oppression, and Yahweh brought us forth out of Egypt with a mighty hand, and with an outstretched arm, and with great terribleness, and with signs, and with wonders” (Deuteronomy 26:6-5.26.9).
c “And He has brought us into this place (maqom), and has given us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey” (Deuteronomy 26:9).
b “And now, behold, I have brought the first of the fruit of the ground, which you, O Yahweh, have given me.” And you shall set it down before Yahweh your God, and worship before Yahweh your God (Deuteronomy 26:10).
a And you shall rejoice in all the good which Yahweh your God has given to you, and to your house, you, and the Levite, and the resident alien who is in the midst of you’ (Deuteronomy 26:11).
Note that in ‘a’ when they come in to the land which ‘Yahweh their God’ gives them for an inheritance, to possess it, and dwell in it, that they must take of the first of all the fruit of the ground, which they must bring in from your land that Yahweh their God ‘gives them’, and put it in a basket, and go to the place which Yahweh their God shall choose, to cause his name to dwell there, and in the parallel they are to rejoice in all the good that ‘Yahweh their God’ has ‘given them’. In ‘b’ they must come to the priest who will be in those days, and say to him, “I declare this day to Yahweh your God, that I am come to the land which Yahweh swore to our fathers to give us” and in the parallel declare that “I have brought the first of the fruit of the ground, which you, O Yahweh, have given me” and set it down before ‘Yahweh your God’ and pay Him homage and worship Him (note here the reversal of ‘Yahweh your God’ and Yahweh’ in the second part). In ‘c’ the priest will take the basket out of their hand, and set it down before the altar of Yahweh their God and in the parallel they will point to it and declare “And He has brought us into this place (maqom), and has given us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey” as indicated by the basket of firstfruits.
In ‘d’ they declare And you shall answer and say before Yahweh your God, “A wandering Aramaean (or ‘an Aramaean ready to perish’) was my father, and he went down into Egypt, and sojourned there, few in number, and he became there a nation, great, mighty, and populous”, while in the parallel they declare “and the Egyptians dealt ill with us, and afflicted us, and laid on us hard bondage, and we cried to Yahweh, the God of our fathers, and Yahweh heard our voice, and saw our affliction, and our toil, and our oppression, and Yahweh brought us forth out of Egypt with a mighty hand, and with an outstretched arm, and with great terribleness, and with signs, and with wonders”. Note that both statements commence with a picture of lowliness, refer to Egypt, and multiply nouns ‘great, mighty, and populous’ compared with ‘our affliction, and our toil, and our oppression’ and ‘with great terribleness, and with signs, and with wonders’.
‘ And it shall be, when you are come in to the land which Yahweh your God gives you for an inheritance, and possess it, and dwell in it,’
This was to take place when they have come into the land, and possess it and dwell in it. As ever the basis for what they are doing would be that Yahweh had brought them safely into the land, which He had given them as an inheritance to possess and dwell in (compare Deuteronomy 12:1; Deuteronomy 25:19. See also Deuteronomy 15:4; Deuteronomy 17:14; Deuteronomy 19:2; Deuteronomy 19:14; Deuteronomy 21:1). They were to enjoy that land to the full. And as can be seen His aim was that there be no poor (Deuteronomy 15:4), that no innocent blood be spilled there (Deuteronomy 19:2; Deuteronomy 21:1), and that no ancient landmarks be removed (Deuteronomy 19:14). Their future would thus consist in personal security, security of life, and security of property for all, a land of blessing indeed.
‘ That you shall take of the first of all the fruit of the ground, which you shall bring in from your land that Yahweh your God gives you, and you shall put it in a basket, and shall go to the place which Yahweh your God shall choose, to cause his name to dwell there, and you shall come to the priest who will be in those days, and say to him, “I declare this day to Yahweh your God, that I am come to the land which Yahweh swore to our fathers to give us.” ’
Thus when the time of growth arrives their first move must be to gather from ‘the first of all the fruit of the ground’, and bring it in from the land that Yahweh has given them and go to the place which Yahweh their God has chosen. Note the repetition of the fact that it is the land that Yahweh has given them. This is what the firstfruit is declaring, gratitude to their Overlord for that land. And in order to express that gratitude they were going to the place which He had chosen and caused His name to dwell there, and where, from an earthly point of view (see Deuteronomy 26:15), He now dwelt in His glory. They were going in order to declare their loyalty and pay tribute.
They will come to the priest (the appointed Priest at the Sanctuary, at this time Eliezer) who will be in office in those days (which yet lie ahead while Moses is speaking), with a basket of produce carefully selected from the firstfruits, and make their first covenant declaration. ‘I declare this day to Yahweh your God that I am come to the land which Yahweh swore to our fathers to give us’. Note what the heart of their confession is, that Yahweh swore to their fathers to give them the land (Deuteronomy 1:8; Deuteronomy 6:10; Deuteronomy 6:18; Deuteronomy 6:23; Deuteronomy 7:13; Deuteronomy 8:1; Deuteronomy 9:5; Deuteronomy 10:11; Deuteronomy 11:9; Deuteronomy 11:21), and that that is why they have come there in obedience to His will, because they have now received it at His hands, as the firstfruits that they have brought amply demonstrate. They are presenting their credentials and evidence of faithful service to their Overlord’s representative, as any tribute bearer would do.
What a contrast is this noble and humble declaration to that which was forbidden in Deuteronomy 9:4 which was a boast of innocence. Here they do not declare their innocence, they rather recognise that they are there because of Yahweh’s gracious oath to the patriarchs their fathers.
The basket would be of wicker-work (compare Deuteronomy 28:5; Deuteronomy 28:17). For the law of the firstfruit see Deuteronomy 18:4; Exodus 23:16; Exodus 23:19; Exodus 34:22; Exodus 34:26; Leviticus 23:17; Numbers 18:12-4.18.13; Numbers 28:26.
Apart from the description here which is very much abbreviated we do not know how this ceremony was first kept. But in later times every family head would bring his basket of firstfruits, and it would be brought with the above words to the priest, who would wave it before Yahweh at the altar before setting it down. The second declaration would then be made by the worshipper who would then, on speaking the words in verse 10, himself present the basket ‘before Yahweh’.
‘ And the priest shall take the basket out of your hand, and set it down before the altar of Yahweh your God.’
As each family head comes with their basket of firstfruits and makes the declaration in Deuteronomy 26:3, the priest will then accept their basket of firstfruits, and ‘set it down before the altar of Yahweh’, as tribute to Him as their Great Overlord.
The people will then make, before the Overlord’s representative, their second, longer covenant declaration given in Deuteronomy 26:5 onwards, in which they express their gratitude for what the Great King has done for them. It commences with a brief history of the past emphasising their previous lowliness, celebrates Yahweh’s deliverance and how He has brought them to this land, a land flowing with milk and honey, and then offers the firstfruit of the ground which He has given them, at which point they pay Him homage. It is a typical covenant response.
‘ And you shall answer and say before Yahweh your God, “A wandering Aramaean (or ‘an Aramaean ready to perish’) was my father, and he went down into Egypt, and sojourned there, few in number, and he became there a nation, great, mighty, and populous.” ’
This is to be the people’s covenant declaration, as no doubt formulated by Moses for their use. They are to begin by declaring their background. Their father was ‘an Aramaean (Arami)’. That is, he had come originally from Aram. Both Abraham, and then Jacob on his return to Canaan, had come from Aram to the north of Canaan (Genesis 11:31; Genesis 25:20; Genesis 28:5; Genesis 28:7; Genesis 31:20; Genesis 31:24; compare Hosea 12:12), and Jacob’s whole family, from whom the children of Israel were theoretically descended, had been born in Aram. The description was probably intended to signify humility. The ‘wandering Aramaeans’ might well have been despised in Egypt.
“Wandering/ready to perish” (either is possible, for the word has connotations of wandering hopelessly).’ This may signify that as a result of the famine Jacob had been ready to perish, but more probably in this context emphasises the fact that he had no settled home but had wandered from place to place because they had no land of their own. See Psalms 105:12-19.105.25.
But either way he had gone with his households to Egypt to reside there because of his need, also on a temporary basis (Exodus 1:1-2.1.5). They had at first been ‘few in number’ (compare Genesis 34:30). They were probably a few thousand made up of ‘seventy’ close family members with their households (Genesis 46:8-1.46.27). As Abraham’s household included 318 fighting men (Genesis 14:14) it may well be that the households of the twelve patriarchs contained a great deal more. Remember how they had decimated Shechem (Genesis 34:0).
But while dwelling in Egypt they had become a mighty and populous nation because Yahweh had been with them (Exodus 1:20). Note the emphasis on what Yahweh had done. They were wanderers and they were few, but from the few He had produced this multitude (compare Deuteronomy 1:10; Psalms 105:12-19.105.25).
In mind in these words is their change in circumstances. They had been humble, but they had become great. They had been wanderers, but now they had Yahweh’s land. They had been few and weak, but now they were a mighty and populous nation.
“ And the Egyptians dealt ill with us, and afflicted us, and laid on us hard bondage, and we cried to Yahweh, the God of our fathers, and Yahweh heard our voice, and saw our affliction, and our toil, and our oppression, and Yahweh brought us forth out of Egypt with a mighty hand, and with an outstretched arm, and with great terribleness, and with signs, and with wonders,”
Their potted history, provided to their Overlord’s representative as an act of submission, continues. Egypt had dealt ill with them, afflicting them and laying on them hard bondage. The result had been that they had cried to Yahweh (Exodus 2:23; Exodus 3:9) the God of their fathers (Exodus 3:6; Exodus 3:13-2.3.16). And He had seen their threefold afflictions (Exodus 3:7; Exodus 4:31), their ‘affliction and toil and oppression’. Note the threefold emphasis indicating the completeness of their troubles. They had been afflicted, they had toiled, they had been oppressed. Life had been very difficult.
But their mighty Deliverer, the God of their fathers, had intervened. He had delivered them and brought them forth out of Egypt with fivefold power, ‘with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, and with great terribleness, and with signs and with wonders’. The fivefoldness stresses that the deliverance was greater than the affliction and made with covenant power. Five is the number of covenant. It incorporated great strength and power, awesomeness, and miraculous manifestations, all drawing out the mightiness of their Deliverer. (Exactly what any Overlord would want to hear).
The whole declaration reads like an ancient and carefully worded submission, based on the early Exodus history, stressing the humbleness of the submitter (a wandering Aramaean would have been seen as the lowest of the low) and the glory of the Deliverer, and even the sceptical agree that it is indeed very ancient. In view of its tone it is probable that Moses prepared it in readiness for the occasion, for he knew the etiquette for approaching great overlords, but it may be that something like it was already in use in their current ceremonies. However, later generations would not be likely to have thought in terms of their father Jacob as ‘an Aramaean’. But we should note that it is not a creed. This is not the place for a creed. It is rather a declaration of what they are, in humble terms, and what their great Overlord has done for them. Sinai would not fit in here. The emphasis is on their previous weak and humble state and their mighty deliverance, not on the niceties of the covenant. It is an act of submission.
“ And he has brought us into this place (maqom), and has given us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey.”
Note the contrast with Deuteronomy 26:6, ‘he (Jacob) went down into Egypt --- and the Egyptians dealt ill with us, and afflicted us, and laid on us hard bondage.’ Now they gratefully declare that ‘Yahweh has brought them into this place’ and has given them this land, ‘a land flowing with milk and honey’, a land which contains all that a man could desire. So while Jacob had taken them into affliction and bondage and hard toil, Yahweh has brought them to a land flowing with milk and honey.
(To have brought any more detail into this statement would have been to wreck its stark impact. It precisely describes what is in mind as they at that stage look at their present condition and compare it with the past. This is not a statement of faith so much as a declaration of loyalty and gratitude).
Thus to the priest, the Overlord’s representative, they have now fully explained why they have come, in typical covenant fashion. It is in order to express how great has been their Overlord’s supreme goodness to them, which they want Him to know that they appreciate fully.
“Place” (maqom) has been regularly used of the place which Yahweh would choose. Here the same word is applied to the whole land. That too was chosen by Yahweh.
“ And now, behold, I have brought the first of the fruit of the ground, which you, O Yahweh, have given me.” And you shall set it down before Yahweh your God, and worship before Yahweh your God.’
Then finally they get to the point of why they have now come. It is to pay tribute of the firstfruit of their ground which He had given them (to as it were pay their rent). At this point they then take up their basket of firstfruit, which the priest had previously waved before Yahweh and set down and which symbolises all their firstfruits, and ceremonially again set it down ‘before Yahweh’, (often spoken of in terms of ‘at the door of the tent of meeting’), and pay homage to Him in adoration and worship. Their submission is complete.
Others see the reference to setting down as simply a reminder of what had been done in Deuteronomy 26:4-5.26.5.
This whole depiction of the ceremony is clearly abbreviated, and we can imagine the busyness of the actual scene when it took place. Many would be flooding in from all parts of the land with their baskets, each of which had to be ceremonially presented twice, once to the priest for him to wave before Yahweh, and then as the offering of the worshipper, possibly by a simple laying of a hand on it to identify himself with his gift, to be followed by his act of submission.
The second setting down would be a further stage in the ceremony coming later than Deuteronomy 26:4. The setting down by the priest was a setting down before the altar by the priest as a preliminary gesture, certainly later after waving it before Yahweh (on the grounds that the firstfruits were the priests and had to be so dedicated), accompanied by the first brief statement, (the basket would be heavy). It would then be followed by the longer statement with the speaker picking up or laying his hand on his basket as he speaks the words of verse 10 and offers it with those words, setting it down again ‘before Yahweh’.
Note the change from plural to singular. Each individual family head first recited the history in terms of the whole nation and then makes his family’s personal offering.
‘ And you shall rejoice in all the good which Yahweh your God has given to you, and to your house, you, and the Levite, and the resident alien who is in the midst of you.’
To this Moses adds that they must then rejoice in all the good that Yahweh has given to them; to the family head and to the whole family, and, they must remember, to the Levite and resident alien that dwell among them. It is to be a time of rejoicing (compare Deuteronomy 12:7; Deuteronomy 12:12; Deuteronomy 12:18). This rejoicing would include their feasting before Yahweh.
Special Tithing In The Third Year (Deuteronomy 26:12-5.26.15 ).
Here they solemnly declare ‘before Yahweh their God’ that they have fulfilled their obligations with regard to the third year tithe.
Analysis in the words of Moses:
· When you have made an end of tithing all the tithe of your increase in the third year, which is the year of tithing, then you shall give it to the Levite, to the resident alien, to the fatherless, and to the widow, that they may eat within your gates, and be filled (Deuteronomy 26:12).
· And you shall say before Yahweh your God, “I have put away the hallowed things out of my house, and also have given them to the Levite, and to the resident alien, to the fatherless, and to the widow, according to all your commandment which you have commanded me (Deuteronomy 26:13 a).
· “I have not transgressed any of your commandments, nor have I forgotten them. I have not eaten of them in my mourning, nor have I put away of them, being unclean, nor given of them for the dead. I have listened to the voice of Yahweh my God. I have done according to all that you have commanded me” (Deuteronomy 26:13-5.26.14).
· “Look down from your holy habitation, from the heavens, and bless your people Israel, and the ground which you have given us, as you swore to our fathers, a land flowing with milk and honey” (Deuteronomy 26:15).
Note that in ‘a’ they give their third year tithe so that all who are dependent on God’s provision may receive it within their cities and be filled and in the parallel they therefore ask that Yahweh will be equally generous to them. In ‘b’ they declare their positive obedience, to His commandments, and in the parallel declare that they have not disobeyed His commandments or done what is forbidden.
Every third year was to be the year of the third year tithe.
‘ When you have made an end of tithing all the tithe of your increase in the third year, which is the year of tithing, then you shall give it to the Levite, to the resident alien, to the fatherless, and to the widow, that they may eat within your gates, and be filled.’
The setting aside of the tithe (the tenth) was a task to be carried out assiduously, and as, once it was set aside, it belonged to Yahweh and was ‘holy’, it would have to be stored carefully. Indeed if it was left with the tither it would cause the smaller farmer a real problem, both on how to store it and how to distribute it (not all had large barns and plenty of space). And while the larger homesteads might not find providing ‘clean’ storage such a problem, they might have equal problems of distribution. Seen all together the tithe would be considerable. It is quite clear that in fact there was no way in which all the tithes could have been distributed individually to the categories mentioned prior to the family heads going before Yahweh at the feast to make their declaration, unless it was handed over to the Levites. For those who were finally to receive it would not have the means of storing it, and could hardly eat it all at once. And the very task of distribution would be a considerable one.
This was especially so in view of the fact that it was ‘holy’ and would have to be kept in a clean place and only distributed by someone who was ritually clean. It is true that it might have been kept in special store under careful protection so that the Levite, the resident alien, the fatherless and the widow could come knocking on the door when they wanted food. But no woman would want that to happen while her man was away, and not all houses had servants. Indeed a few moments thought demonstrates that in such circumstances the tithe would become a great headache to many.
It is therefore very probable that we are to see ‘give it to the Levite’ as to be taken literally. And this would tie in with what had been done previously when the Levites did receive all the tithes. For the fact is that it is very probable that the Levite would supervise the setting aside and giving of the tithe. In Deuteronomy 12:12; Deuteronomy 12:18 the Levite is closely connected with the families with whom he feasts before Yahweh, and the emphasis on the fact that they were ‘not to forsake’ the Levite (Deuteronomy 12:19; Deuteronomy 14:27) might not have been lest they genuinely overlook him, but may be seen as a reminder of the responsibility they still had towards the Levites as a whole with regard to tithes. They were not to forsake him as the one who supervised the tithes, (as well as partaking of them), by simple refusing to give tithes. In Deuteronomy 14:27 the Levite ‘within their gates’ is not shown as included in the family party, yet he is still to be provided for from the tithes.
Indeed we have here a problem. Here we have the ‘holy’ tithes. But who is going to look after them? Not surely the struggling small farmer, himself finding it difficult to make a living for his family, with a tiny home. And the very fact that this is a three yearly tithe-giving must surely suggest that it was to be stored for use over most of that period, and yet we find the tither solemnly declaring that he no longer has it a few weeks later. A huge bonanza once every three years, followed by a long period of need was hardly the best way to cater for the needy, and hardly fits in with the idea of something that belongs to Yahweh. So who is going to oversee the distribution?
Nor can we doubt that tithing would have to be supervised. Many questions might arise as to what should be tithed, which required an expert answer, and it is doubtful if even Moses and the priests were so trusting that the giving of tithes went totally unsupervised, while God, who finally oversaw matters, knew too well the hearts of men. (Imagine a country where everyone paid 10% tax and everyone had to decide for themselves what the level of their income was that they should apply it to, without any supervision. We can imagine the result. Hidden actual gross national product 200 billion. Declared gross national product 100,000, therefore 10% tax would be ten thousand instead of twenty billion?). The clear answer to all these problems is the Levites. So in our view ‘shall give it to the Levite’, which we always find comes first in the list after the household, means, ‘as the trustee who will ensure that they are also passed on to the resident alien, the fatherless and the widow’. This was almost certainly their main holy occupation that paralleled and finally replaced their duties of bearing the Ark and the tabernacle.
‘ And you shall say before Yahweh your God, “I have put away the hallowed things out of my house, and also have given them to the Levite, and to the resident alien, to the fatherless, and to the widow, according to all your commandment which you have commanded me. I have not transgressed any of your commandments, nor have I forgotten them.”
For the tither was to go ‘before Yahweh’, that is, was to go up to the Sanctuary ‘to the door of the tent of meeting’, and there he had to declare that he had put away ‘the hallowed thing’ out of his house, and that none of it was any longer there. Where then had it all gone? ‘To the Levite’ and the others. It is doubtful whether in that time the resident aliens, fatherless and widows were around in such quantities that in a few weeks they could eat ten per cent of the country’s production. Thus it is clear that the vast majority of it went to the Levites, who would then not only partake of it themselves, but would store it in specially arranged clean places from where they would distribute it as needed over the next two or three years.
“ I have not eaten of them in my mourning, nor have I put away of them, being unclean, nor given of them for the dead. I have listened to the voice of Yahweh my God. I have done according to all that you have commanded me.”
Having solemnly declared that he had dealt rightly with the holy tithe, he then declared what he had not done. Clearly these latter suggestions were seen as dangers which were sufficiently common that they had to be guarded against.
We have to remember in this respect that many of ‘the Israelites’ who were listening to Moses were foreigners from the mixed multitude (Exodus 12:38), who having been adopted by a tribe, were brought into the covenant at Sinai, and who would be circumcised with all the others at Gilgal (Joshua 5:2-6.5.9). If they had wished, and after the deliverance and Sinai most would surely desire to do so, they had been able to partake of the Passover in the wilderness and once in the land they could also do so if they were among the circumcised (Exodus 12:48-2.12.49; Numbers 9:14). But in spite of this, and there is no reason to doubt their genuineness, some of them had strange ideas. Note Leviticus 17:7 where some had been secretly sacrificing to he-goats in the wilderness. And we know that all had been willing to bow down to the molten calf (Exodus 32:1-2.32.6).
What then was being warned against? Eating the holy tithes in mourning, putting them away while unclean, and giving of them ‘for the dead’. The first, eating the holy tithes in mourning, may well refer to wakes (mourning feasts). A house in mourning, along with its inhabitants, was regarded as unclean because of its contact with death. It may well have been felt by some that holy tithes were very suitable for such a purpose, where many guests would gather, among whom might be Levites, the fatherless, widows and resident aliens. What better use than to give them to these latter at the wake? But this was forbidden because mourning was connected with death and some of those present would be unclean through contact with those who had touched the dead. It was not the kind of environment into which to introduce the holy tithes.
“Putting them away while unclean” was a declaration that great care had been taken, both in setting aside the tithes, and once the tithes were set aside for Yahweh, to ensure that they were only handled by people when they were ritually clean. It was a warning of the care that must be taken not to touch them while unclean, something much more difficult for the small farmer than for his larger neighbour who had a wider number of people to call on and better facilities.
“Giving of them for the dead.” This may refer to any number of superstitions connected with the dead. Perhaps some had set the holy tithes on the coffin or body robes that the dead might partake of their holiness. Perhaps some had left them out for the dead or for spirits whom they saw as also ‘holy’. But this would be to defile holy things. There were so many superstitions connected with the dead among so many peoples, no doubt genuinely held, that to identify the source of this one would be totally impossible. Indeed it may be intended to cover a number of superstitions. It would appear that such superstitions might have been fairly common among some Israelites, especially the women who were more prone to such things (it was they who seven hundred years later wept for Tammuz - Ezekiel 8:14). So the householder had to be able to swear that the holy tithes had never been used for any purpose connected with the dead while they were in his care.
“ Look down from your holy habitation, from the heavens, and bless your people Israel, and the ground which you have given us, as you swore to our fathers, a land flowing with milk and honey.”
The declaration then ends in a prayer. At His command they have given liberally to those who were especially dependent on Yahweh, now they come in their dependence seeking His liberality. This prayer makes clear that while Yahweh was seen as dwelling among them in His tabernacle at the place which He had chosen, the Israelites were quite well aware that He also dwelt in ‘the heavens’. This was not to see Him as simply above the clouds, for the sky was also His creation. It was to see Him as beyond the sky, outside the worldly creation, in a place unknown to men where He dwelt with those to whom He had spoken in Genesis 1:26. Solomon would later call it the heaven of heavens (1 Kings 8:27).
And each one called on Him in His Heaven, to look down (compare Psalms 80:14; Psalms 85:11; Isaiah 63:15) on them and bless His people, and the ground (adamah) which He had given them, a land flowing with milk and honey, just as He had sworn to their fathers. They were crying for the opposite of the curse that had been put on the ground (adamah) in Genesis 3:17, because this was His land. Rather they wanted Him to bless it (blessing and cursing will shortly contrast with each other. See especially Deuteronomy 28:8 and also the whole of Deuteronomy 27:15 to Deuteronomy 28:8), causing it to flourish and bring forth its increase.
The cry for Him to ‘look down’ would have brought to mind Genesis 11:5 where what men were doing was so insignificant that Yahweh had to ‘come down’ to see it. Here Yahweh does not need to come down. It is big enough for Him to see all, for they are His people and His land, and He dispenses His blessings from Heaven.
So in response to their tribute and their obedience to His covenant they looked to their divine Overlord to look on them with favour.
VII THE COVENANT CEREMONY (Deuteronomy 26:16 to Deuteronomy 27:26 ).
The covenant having been fully outlined and declared, and the tribute having been offered, the covenant ceremony can now be prepared for.
Moses’ Final Summing Up .
Moses now closes his speech with a final exhortation. It had begun in Deuteronomy 5:0 with the reproclamation of the initial covenant, to be followed with detailed regulations, in a similar way to Exodus 20:1 to Exodus 23:33. But as we have seen this had been made by the writer into a larger covenant form commencing at Deuteronomy 1:1. It will now be followed by the solemn recording of the covenant in the presence of witnesses (Deuteronomy 27:2-5.27.8) and then the blessings and cursings (Deuteronomy 27:11 to Deuteronomy 28:68), closing with the colophon in Deuteronomy 29:1 which was the end of the initial covenant record.
a This day Yahweh your God commands you to do these statutes and ordinances. You shall therefore keep and do them with all your heart, and with all your soul’ (Deuteronomy 26:16).
b You have avouched Yahweh this day to be your God, and that you would walk in His ways, and keep His statutes, and His commandments, and His ordinances, and listen to His voice (Deuteronomy 26:17).
b And Yahweh has avouched you this day to be a people for his own possession, as He has promised you, and that you should keep all His commandments, and to make you high above all nations that He has made, ‘in praise, and in name, and in honour’ (Deuteronomy 26:18-5.26.19 a).
b And that you may be a holy people to Yahweh your God, as He has spoken (Deuteronomy 26:19 b).
Note that in ‘a’ the command is to be wholehearted in obeying the covenant, and in the parallel this will man that they are a holy people to Yahweh their God, as He has said that they will be. In ‘b’ the people have avouched Yahweh to be their God and in the parallel Yahweh has avouched that they will be His people. Both include their keeping of His commandments.
‘ This day Yahweh your God commands you to do these statutes and ordinances. You shall therefore keep and do them with all your heart, and with all your soul.’
On this solemn day all these commands, ‘the statutes and ordinances’, had been given to them through him by Yahweh. This phrase covered all aspects of Yahweh’s requirements. They were to keep them in their hearts and minds, and do them with all their heart and soul. This was to be their commitment to Yahweh, so that they may be revealed as His true people. But this had to include the Law that lay behind his speech in order for it to make sense.
Compare Deuteronomy 5:1 and Deuteronomy 12:1, the first of which introduces the proclamation of the covenant, and the second the commencement of the detailed regulations. This is the covenant within the covenant. But the final purpose of the covenant was an obedient people.
When we think of salvation as simply a means by which God gets us to Heaven we are like Israel when it saw the covenant as making them supreme. We are like children to whom the present glitter is everything. But as with His covenant, the purpose of His salvation is more than that. It is that we might be a holy people, walking in the Lord, whether on earth or in Heaven. That should be our delight, that we shall be like Him (1 John 3:2), that we should walk as children of light. To get to Heaven yes, but to get there as a holy people.
‘ You have avouched Yahweh this day to be your God, and that you would walk in his ways, and keep his statutes, and his commandments, and his ordinances, and listen to his voice,’
Here the covenant oaths are being exchanged, following the pattern of treaties between great overlords and their subject people. Each make their avowal to the other in threefold terms. He points out that by their presence and response they had this day avouched for themselves that Yahweh was their God, and that they would walk in His ways.
“Walking” is a common description of doing God’s will and pleasure (Deuteronomy 5:33; Deuteronomy 8:6; Deuteronomy 10:12; Deuteronomy 11:22; Deuteronomy 13:4; Deuteronomy 19:9; Genesis 5:24; Genesis 6:9; Genesis 17:1; Genesis 24:40; Genesis 48:15; Exodus 18:20; Leviticus 18:4; Leviticus 26:3). It is the opposite of ‘walking contrary to Him’ (Leviticus 26:21-3.26.28). They had declared that they would ‘keep His statutes and His commandments and His ordinances’ (compare here Deuteronomy 5:27; Exodus 24:3-2.24.8). They had declared that they would listen when He spoke.
‘ And Yahweh has avouched you this day to be a people for his own possession, as he has promised you, and that you should keep all his commandments, and to make you high above all nations that he has made, ‘in praise, and in name, and in honour’, and that you may be a holy people to Yahweh your God, as he has spoken.’
And Yahweh in His turn has avouched them as His true people, as His own treasured possession (compare Deuteronomy 7:6; Deuteronomy 14:2; Deuteronomy 28:9-5.28.10; Exodus 19:5-2.19.6), as a holy people, totally set apart to Him, just as He had promised. He had further avouched them as those who must keep all His commandments. Here we have the picture of the true people of God, first chosen and made precious, and then in response required to walk in obedience.
The result will be that He will raise them high above all nations that He has made, ‘high in praise and name and honour’ (compare Jeremiah 13:11; Jeremiah 33:9, where it was the direct result of His saving work). But this was so that they would be revealed as a holy people to Yahweh their God in accordance with His words, truly set apart for Him, and revealing His essential holiness in their lives. We all want the praise, the name and the honour. What is often not so attractive is being a people who deserve it when it requires something from us.
They would ever delight in the fact that Yahweh had chosen them. They would rejoice at the thought of being raised high above all. What they found more difficult, and in the end refused, was to respond by walking in His ways and doing only His will. In other words for many of them their belief was external. It was about their own importance. It was not a living belief in the living God which had responded to Him in order to please Him and do His will. The result would be that they would lose it all. For trust and obedience are two side of the one response and must go together.
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Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Deuteronomy 26". "Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week of Advent