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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).
Chapters 29 The Final Postscript.
Having reproclaimed the covenant of Sinai (Deuteronomy 5:1-30) in his great speech in the plains of Moab, but expounding it as a people’s treaty (Deuteronomy 6-26), and having probably seen to the commencement of the recording of it in writing, Moses now calls for a true response to it in this follow-up speech. They had by now had time to consider all that he had spoken and to respond accordingly. The constant references to what has previously been said confirms the direct connection of this chapter with what has gone before.
The covenant at Sinai had been the official covenant, where all the provisions for ensuring their relationship with God had been included, including the setting up of the Sanctuary and the priesthood. It had been very much both declarative and ritualistic, although it had certainly demanded a response. The reproclamation in the plains of Moab (Deuteronomy 1:5 to Deuteronomy 29:1) had deliberately been made as a ‘popular’ version, a people’s covenant, with the emphasis on what the people themselves had to do, and a call for their response. Without the Sinai covenant, on which it relied for all cult stipulations, it was incomplete. But it was more personal to the people. Would they now respond to it?
These two chapters, Deuteronomy 29-30, are thus a summary statement, referring back to what he has said and calling for response to it. This chapter contains within it all the essentials of the requirement for covenant response; the pre-history (Deuteronomy 29:2-8), the call for commitment (Deuteronomy 29:9; Deuteronomy 29:12-13), the description of the prospective responders to the covenant (Deuteronomy 29:10-15), the warning against turning to any other Overlord (Deuteronomy 29:16-21), the curses which will fall on the whole nation for such disobedience if unchecked (Deuteronomy 29:22-23), the witnesses who would be against them if they did (Deuteronomy 29:24-28). The full details of the future are secret, and have been withheld, but what God requires of them has been made plain. It has been given to them within the covenant so that they will do it (Deuteronomy 29:29).
But, even if they do fail, chapter 30 then describes the future possibility of a way back. Even then if there is true repentance Yahweh will restore them (Deuteronomy 30:1-9). But this too will depend on response to the covenant (Deuteronomy 30:10). For this covenant is not hidden and unreachable. It is not a secret. It is open before them (Deuteronomy 30:11-14). The choice is with them whether they choose life or death with all the consequences resulting from each (Deuteronomy 30:15-20).
A Quick Resume Of Their History (Deuteronomy 29:2-8 ).
In the light of the covenant which he had given (Deuteronomy 29:1), he began by a quick reminder of their reasons for confidence in Yahweh, and of why they should be grateful to Him so that they should respond accordingly. He cited four things, Yahweh’s deliverance from Egypt (compare Deuteronomy 1:30; Deuteronomy 4:20; Deuteronomy 4:34; Deuteronomy 4:37; Deuteronomy 5:6; Deuteronomy 5:15; Deuteronomy 6:12; Deuteronomy 6:21-22; Deuteronomy 7:8; Deuteronomy 7:18; Deuteronomy 11:3-4; Deuteronomy 20:1; Deuteronomy 26:8), His care in the wilderness (see Deuteronomy 8:2-4; compare Deuteronomy 1:31), the crushing defeats of Sihon and Og (see Deuteronomy 1:4; Deuteronomy 2:24 to Deuteronomy 3:17; Deuteronomy 4:45-46; Deuteronomy 31:4), and their reception of the land which had once belonged to those kings. He feared that they had not yet really laid hold of these lessons by faith. They had failed to really take in what the past should have taught them.
How quickly we too forget so easily all the He has done for us.
Note that while mention of the deliverance from Egypt appears all through his previous covenant speeches, the details of the care in the wilderness came only in the second speech, while the emphasis on Sihon and Og came only in the first speech, demonstrating that both are in mind in this summary which has the whole book in mind seen as a whole.
Analysis using the words of Moses:
a And Moses called to all Israel, and said to them, You have seen all that Yahweh did before your eyes in the land of Egypt, to Pharaoh, and to all his servants, and to all his land, the great trials which your eyes saw, the signs, and those great wonders (Deuteronomy 29:2-3).
b But Yahweh had not given you a heart to know, and eyes to see, and ears to hear, to this day (Deuteronomy 29:4).
c And I have led you forty years in the wilderness, your clothes are not waxed old upon you, and your shoe is not waxed old on your foot (Deuteronomy 29:5).
c You have not eaten bread, nor have drunk wine or strong drink (Deuteronomy 29:6 a).
b That you may know that I am Yahweh your God (Deuteronomy 29:6 b).
a And when you (ye) came to this place, Sihon the king of Heshbon, and Og the king of Bashan, came out against us to battle, and we smote them, and we took their land, and gave it for an inheritance to the Reubenites, and to the Gadites, and to the half-tribe of the Manassites (Deuteronomy 29:8).
Note in ‘a’ that he describes the great victory given to Israel over Pharaoh and Egypt by Yahweh, and in the parallel refers to the great victory He has given them over Sihon and Og, the former gave them their freedom, the latter has given them large tracts of land. In ‘b’ the lesson has not really come home to them, and in the parallel he now suggests that their experiences should have enabled them to know Yahweh. In ‘c’ the two provisions of clothing, and in the parallel food, have constantly been provided for them by Him in the wilderness.
‘ And Moses called to all Israel, and said to them, You (ye) have seen all that Yahweh did before your (of ye) eyes in the land of Egypt, to Pharaoh, and to all his servants, and to all his land, the great trials which your (thy) eyes saw, the signs, and those great wonders,’
He pointed first to their deliverance from Egypt, the reason for gratitude that outstripped all others. He pointed out that they (the older among them, and the remainder through their eyes) had seen with their own eyes what Yahweh had done to Pharaoh in the land of Egypt, and to his whole enslaved people, and to all his land (threefold completeness). Yahweh had summarily dealt with the god-king, the whole people of Egypt and the land itself, of which He, Yahweh, was clearly the final overlord. None had been able to resist Him.
And they had seen the great ‘testings’, the ‘signs’ and the great ‘wonders’. The threefoldness stresses the completeness of His action. He had put Egypt through a huge test, He had given undeniable signs to His people, and to them, of Who He was, and He had performed amazing wonders before their eyes (compare Deuteronomy 4:13; Deuteronomy 7:19). What more proof did they need?
It should be noted that two of these nouns are drawn from common use in Exodus. For ‘signs’ and ‘wonders’ there see Exodus 4:8-9; Exodus 4:17; Exodus 4:21; Exodus 4:28; Exodus 4:30; Exodus 7:9; Exodus 10:1; Exodus 11:9-10.
‘ But Yahweh had not given you (ye) a heart to know, and eyes to see, and ears to hear, to this day.’
But as their subsequent history had revealed, the message had not got over to them, something which he recognised was still true at this very time. Their hearts had not taken it in, their eyes had been blinded, their ears had been deaf, their response had been inadequate, and still was. The full significance of what had happened had not yet properly come home to them even now.
Had someone spoken to them immediately after the Reed Sea deliverance they might have gained a different impression. Then they had ‘believed’ (Exodus 14:31). But that faith had quickly dissipated in the light of the wilderness experiences, resulting in ultimate failure as described in Deuteronomy 1:6 to Deuteronomy 2:1. And he was now questioning whether that was still so. Were they now going to respond or not? It is clear that he did not have a great deal of confidence in them.
‘ And I have led you (ye) forty years in the wilderness, your (of ye) clothes are not waxed old upon you (ye), and your (thy) shoe is not waxed old on your (thy) foot. You (ye) have not eaten bread, nor have ye drunk wine or strong drink, that you (ye) may know that I am Yahweh your (of ye) God.’
As in Deuteronomy 28:20 Moses here suddenly allows their divine Trek-leader to speak for Himself. It is Yahweh Who now speaks. He was the One Who had borne them as a man bears his sons (Deuteronomy 1:31). This vivid change of address stresses the wonder of God’s care in the wilderness. Yahweh Himself reminds them that His direct response to their unbelief had not been to desert them, but to ensure that they were led forward by Him as their Trek-leader (compare Deuteronomy 8:2), and that they had been well-clothed and well-shod, and God-fed and supplied throughout the whole forty years in the wilderness (compare Deuteronomy 8:3-4). He had personally watched over them.
Almost nothing about that penal period in the wilderness has been recorded for us. Numbers 15-19 which cover this period are mainly theological with only one or two incidents mentioned in order to back up that theology. It was clearly seen as a period to be blacked out and forgotten. But here Moses reminds them of it and of how good God had been to them during that period.
“You have not eaten bread.” That is, man made food. That would have been difficult to obtain in the wilderness and dependence on it would have resulted in starvation. Rather they had eaten manna which had come to them in abundant daily supply, food provided by God.
“You have not drunk wine or strong drink.” Nor had they had to rely on drinking man-made wine and strong drink. That would have been to rely on something in short supply. That was a man-made supply. They had not been somewhere where that was available. They had not been able to depend on man. Rather had they continually been supplied with sources of fresh water which Yahweh had provided.
The reason for this in both cases was they ‘might know that He was indeed Yahweh their God’, the One Who cared for them, their covenant God, their provider, the giver of all good things, and that they might totally rely on Him. The ‘knowing’ of Yahweh through His revelation in deliverance was central to the teaching of Exodus (Exodus 6:3; Exodus 6:7; Exodus 7:5; Exodus 14:4; Exodus 16:12).
Some of them, of course, had not been there through all that, but although we might think in terms of the fact that a large number of them had not undergone these experiences, there was not a person among them who would have felt the same. Such was the sense of community identification that they would each have felt that they had all had a part in what Moses was describing, for they would have participated in it again and again in their ceremonies and ritual.
‘ And when you (ye) came to this place, Sihon the king of Heshbon, and Og the king of Bashan, came out against us to battle, and we smote them, and we took their land, and gave it for an inheritance to the Reubenites, and to the Gadites, and to the half-tribe of the Manassites.’
Then subsequently had come the massive victories over Sihon, king of the Amorites, and Og, king of Bashan, and the receipt of their first portion of God-given land (Deuteronomy 2:26 to Deuteronomy 3:17). If this was not enough to stir them to faith, what was?
If we wonder at their lack of faith we must remember that it is quite remarkable how we, like them, can so easily forget past blessings and victories. There have been such for all of us, times when we have wondered how any man could ever doubt God. But as we later dwell on the problems of the moment the past is forgotten. It should not be so. That is why we need to be continually reminded. And here Moses was stirring their memories to precisely those victories of the past so that they would be truly responsive to God and ready for what the future held.
And they not only had memories. They were at that very moment holding some of that land in possession. Houses were already being occupied, land was already being farmed, herds and flocks were already being fed. Settlement was already taking place by the two and a half tribes. They had already received an earnest, a guarantee and sample, of what they were to receive from Him. It was real for all to see.
The Call For Commitment (Deuteronomy 29:9 ; Deuteronomy 29:12-13 ) and The Description of the Responders (Deuteronomy 29:10-15 ).
Thus in the light of this they were now to prove themselves genuine people of faith, genuine responders.
Analysis using the words of Moses:
a Keep therefore the words of this covenant, and do them, that you may prosper in all that you do (Deuteronomy 29:9).
b You have taken your stand this day all of you before Yahweh your God; your chiefs, your tribes, your elders, and your officers, even all the men of Israel, your little ones, your wives, and your resident alien who is in the midst of your camps, from the hewer of your wood to the drawer of your water, that you may enter into the covenant of Yahweh your God, and into His oath, which Yahweh your God makes with you this day (Deuteronomy 29:10-12).’
b That He may establish you this day to Himself for a people, and that He may be to you a God, as He spoke to you, and as He swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob (Deuteronomy 29:13).
a Neither with you only do I make this covenant and this oath, but with him who stands here with us this day before Yahweh our God, and also with him who is not here with us this day (Deuteronomy 29:14-15).
Note in ‘a’ they are commanded to keep the words of His covenant and do them, and in the parallel this is applied to those both present and absent. In ‘b’ they have taken their stand before Yahweh their God to enter into the covenant, and to enter into His oath, and in the parallel this was so that He might establish them in the covenant and be their God as He has sworn to their fathers from of old.
‘ Keep therefore the words of this covenant, and do them, that you (ye) may prosper in all that you (ye) do.’
They were to keep in their hearts and keep in their lives the words of ‘this covenant’, the covenant in chapters Deuteronomy 1:5 to Deuteronomy 29:1. It had to be that covenant which is referred to, for ‘the blessings’ mentioned in Deuteronomy 30:1 had only been connected with that covenant. They were ‘to do them’ (an emphasis echoed by Jesus in Matthew 7:21; Matthew 7:24). And the result would then be that they would prosper in all that they did. Believing is fine, but in the end true faith is only revealed by doing.
‘ You (ye) have taken your stand this day all of you (ye) before Yahweh your (of ye) God; your (of ye) chiefs, your (of ye) tribes, your (of ye) elders, and your (of ye) officers, even all the men of Israel, your (of ye) little ones, your (of ye) wives, and your (thy) resident alien who is in the midst of your (thy) camps, from the hewer of your (thy) wood to the drawer of your (thy) water, that you (thou) may enter into the covenant of Yahweh your (thy) God, and into his oath, which Yahweh your (thy) God makes with you (thee) this day,’
For that is why they were there, all of them, having taken their stand before Yahweh around His Sanctuary. It was in order to enter into His covenant and His oath that He was making with them this day. And it was not only a covenant, it was a covenant sworn to their fathers, and therefore doubly safe. The statement that they had ‘taken their stand’ suggests that there had been some positive response to Moses’ words.
Some translate ‘oath’ as ‘curse’. It can mean either. Then the idea would be that by entering into the oath they had, as it were put themselves under the curse which would result from failure.
All were included. Their chiefs, their tribes, their elders, their administrative officials, these four comprising all the men of Israel, their little ones, their wives, and even the resident aliens, the lowly hewers of wood and the drawers of water. Drawing water was very much a woman slave’s occupation.
We note the movement downwards, chiefs, male tribal members including elders and administrators, children (partly male), women, non-covenant members. Like the ox and the ass who always led the sheep and the goats, the men did the heavier work, and the fighting.
‘ That he may establish you (thee) this day to himself for a people, and that he may be to you (thee) a God, as he spoke to you (thee), and as he swore unto your (thy) fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.’
And they were stood there that they might be established that day (or ‘at that time’) by Yahweh as a people (Deuteronomy 27:9), and that He might be their God as He had already promised, and as He had sworn to the patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (compare Deuteronomy 1:8; Deuteronomy 6:10; Deuteronomy 9:5; Deuteronomy 9:27). This was Yahweh’s constant condescension towards and plea with His people, “you shall be My people and I will be your God” (compare Exodus 6:7; Hosea 2:23; Jeremiah 31:33; Zechariah 8:8; Zechariah 13:9; see also Genesis 17:7-8; Exodus 29:45; Leviticus 22:32-33).
‘ Neither with you (ye) only do I make this covenant and this oath, but with him who stands here with us this day before Yahweh our God, and also with him who is not here with us this day,’
This may signify two alternatives, that this covenant was not only with them (him who stands here with us this day), it was with them and with all who would follow them, their children, and their children’s children (him who is not here with us this day). Alternately it may signify them, other parties who were present who desired to come within the covenant, and the soldiers still fighting in Bashan.
The Awful Danger That Must Be Avoided: A Turning To Other Overlords, to Idols (Deuteronomy 29:16-21 ).
Aware of their propensity to seek after idols he now warns them once more against doing so.
Analysis using the words of Moses:
a For you know how we dwelt in the land of Egypt, and how we came through the midst of the nations through which you passed, and you have seen their abominations (detestable things), and their idols, wood and stone, silver and gold, which were among them (Deuteronomy 29:16-17).
b Lest there should be among you man, or woman, or family, or tribe, whose heart turns away this day from Yahweh our God, to go to serve the gods of those nations (Deuteronomy 29:18 a).
c Lest there should be among you a root which bears gall (bitter, inedible fruit) and wormwood (Deuteronomy 29:18 b).
c And it come about that, when he hears the words of this curse, he bless himself in his heart, saying, “I shall have peace, though I walk in the stubbornness of my heart,” to destroy the watered with the parched (Deuteronomy 29:19).
b Yahweh will not pardon him, but then the anger of Yahweh and his jealousy will smoke against that man, and all the curse that is written in this book will lie on him, and Yahweh will blot out his name from under heaven (Deuteronomy 29:20).
a And Yahweh will set him apart to evil out of all the tribes of Israel, according to all the curses of the covenant which is written in this book of instruction (the law) (Deuteronomy 29:21).
Note that in ‘a’ they have come safely from Egypt and through the midst of the nations, seeing idols on every side, but not yielding to them, and in the parallel any who do yield to them will be set apart by Yahweh as evil in accordance with the curses in the book of Instruction. In ‘b’ there is the fear lest there should be among them any man, or woman, or family, or tribe, whose heart turns away this day from Yahweh their God, to go to serve the gods of those nations, and in the parallel the warning comes that Yahweh will not pardon him, for then the anger of Yahweh and his jealousy will smoke against that man, and all the curse that is written in this book will lie on him, and Yahweh will blot out his name from under heaven. In ‘c’ the fear is lest there should be among them a man who is a root which bears gall (bitter, inedible fruit) and wormwood, and in the parallel it comes about that, when he hears the words of this curse, he bless himself in his heart, saying, “I shall have peace, though I walk in the stubbornness of my heart”. The danger is that he will destroy the watered with the parched (Deuteronomy 29:19).
‘ (For you (ye) know how we dwelt in the land of Egypt, and how we came through the midst of the nations through which you (ye) passed, and you (ye) have seen their abominations (detestable things), and their idols, wood and stone, silver and gold, which were among them),’
They had no excuse for turning to idolatry, for they had good reason to know about gruesome idols. They had dwelt in the land of Egypt and had seen them there. And they had seen them as they had passed through the nations on their journey. All their abominations, their idols of wood and stone (compare Deuteronomy 4:28; Deuteronomy 28:36; Deuteronomy 28:64), of silver and of gold (Deuteronomy 7:25) had been openly apparent. They had seen them everywhere. They had watched them being worshipped, and they should have recognised them for what they were, abominations, objects of stone and wood gilded with silver and gold.
‘ Lest there should be among you (ye) man, or woman, or family, or tribe, whose heart turns away this day from Yahweh our God, to go to serve the gods of those nations; lest there should be among you (ye) a root which bears gall (bitter, inedible fruit) and wormwood,’
And it was good that this was known to them, lest there be any among them, whether as individuals or as a group (compare Deuteronomy 13:0), whose hearts would turn away from Yahweh in order to serve these other gods. For such an attitude would establish a root which would produce wormwood and gall, the bitterest things known to them, which would spread until it affected many.
For gall and wormwood which indicates distress, trouble and bitterness see Proverbs 5:4; Jeremiah 9:15; Jeremiah 23:15; Lamentations 3:15; Lamentations 3:19; Amos 5:7.
‘ And it come about that, when he hears the words of this curse, he bless himself in his heart, saying, “I shall have peace, though I walk in the stubbornness of my heart,” to destroy the watered with the parched.’
This bitter root at work within a man, this foolish way of thinking, could cause him, when he heard the curse against idolatry (or the oath of the covenant), to deceive himself and rather bless himself and say ‘I shall have wellbeing, though I walk in the stubbornness of my heart.” He would foolishly, and fruitlessly, counter Yahweh’s curse with his own blessing. And by his behaviour he could then affect others. Thus would he destroy what is watered (is watered, moist and at present alive) with that which is parched (is thirsty, dry and dead).
He might foolishly think that as he was only one among a people who were blessed he could get away with it even though he walked in stubbornness of heart. What was he among so many? God would surely not pick on him alone. But the result was that he would not only destroy himself but others.
Alternately there may be a play on thought here, that the man’s intention had been to call on the gods of the land in order that they might send rain so that ‘the watered might sweep away the parched’. But what would happen would be that both watered and parched would be swept away.
This is always man’s tendency with God, to dismiss the possibility of being called to account and to suppose that God can be mocked. But it is not so. God will bring every work into judgment. We may have been forgiven, but w will still have to give account.
‘ Yahweh will not pardon him, but then the anger of Yahweh and his jealousy will smoke against that man, and all the curse that is written in this book will lie on him, and Yahweh will blot out his name from under heaven.’
But he was wrong. Yahweh would see, and He would act. He would not pardon him (unless of course he repented), because His anger and jealousy for His people’s purity would be like the smoke of fiery judgment against him, and the whole curse written in the book containing Moses’ covenant speeches, would lie on him, and Yahweh would blot out his name from under heaven. He would not be remembered, he would not be ‘gathered to his fathers’, he would cease to be. He would become nothingness.
‘ And Yahweh will set him apart to evil out of all the tribes of Israel, according to all the curses of the covenant which is written in this book of instruction (the law).’
He would be set apart to evil, to the evils as described in Deuteronomy 28:15 onwards, selected out from all the tribes of Israel because of his detestable behaviour to undergo the curses of the covenant written in this book of instruction. Note the continued emphasis that it was now in writing, as it would also be written on the stones once they were in the land.
The Curse That Will Come On The Whole Nation For Unchecked Evil And Those Who Will Witness Against Them (Deuteronomy 29:22-28 ).
But if he was allowed to go unchecked it was not only he but the whole nation who would be affected. Moses jumps rapidly from the first unchecked failing to the final consequence. The whole nation would eventually suffer.
Analysis using the words of Moses:
a And the generation to come, your children who will rise up after you, and the foreigner who will come from a far land, will say, when they see the plagues of that land, and the sicknesses with which Yahweh has made it sick, and that the whole land thereof is brimstone, and salt, and a burning; that it is not sown, nor bears, nor any grass grows in it, like the overthrow of Sodom and Gomorrah, Admah and Zeboiim, which Yahweh overthrew in his anger, and in his wrath (Deuteronomy 29:22-23).
b Even all the nations will say, “For what reason has Yahweh done thus to this land? What does the heat of this great anger mean?” (Deuteronomy 29:24).
b Then men will say, “Because they forsook the covenant of Yahweh, the God of their fathers, which he made with them when he brought them forth out of the land of Egypt, and went and served other gods, and worshipped them, gods that they knew not, and that he had not given to them”, that is why the anger of Yahweh was kindled against this land, to bring on it all the curse which is written in this book, and Yahweh rooted them out of their land in anger, and in wrath, and in great indignation, and cast them into another land, as at this day” (Deuteronomy 29:27-28).
a The secret things belong to Yahweh our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children for ever, that we may do all the words of this law (Deuteronomy 29:19).
Note that in ‘a’ the children of such people (as follow idols), and also visiting foreigners, will wonder at the sad state of the land because Yahweh in His anger has made it sick and parched, and in the parallel this is one of the secret things of which only a part may be revealed to men. In ‘b’ all the nations will ask what it all means and in the parallel the full reply will come, “Because they forsook the covenant of Yahweh, the God of their fathers, which He made with them when He brought them forth out of the land of Egypt, and went and served other gods, and worshipped them, gods that they knew not, and that He had not given to them”, that is why the anger of Yahweh was kindled against this land, to bring on it all the curse which is written in this book, and Yahweh rooted them out of their land in anger, and in wrath, and in great indignation, and cast them into another land, as at this day”.
‘ And the generation to come, your (of ye) children who will rise up after you (ye), and the foreigner who will come from a far land, will say, when they see the plagues of that land, and the sicknesses with which Yahweh has made it sick, and that the whole land thereof is brimstone, and salt, and a burning; that it is not sown, nor bears, nor any grass grows in it, like the overthrow of Sodom and Gomorrah, Admah and Zeboiim, which Yahweh overthrew in his anger, and in his wrath,’
With astonishing rapidity the thought immediately springs from the individual to the whole nation. They had allowed the person to continue unchecked and so the whole nation has been affected, the watered with the parched (Deuteronomy 29:19). This sudden leap is powerful in its impact, and is in accordance with warnings previously given (Deuteronomy 13:6-11; Deuteronomy 19:19-20). To begin with it was one man, allowed to sin unchecked, and now suddenly it is the whole nation. It is saying that such compromise allowed unchecked must eventually bring disaster for all. They should have put him to death from the start. The final consequence is simply assumed as the necessary result of their failure to act.
Now the whole land is affected. It is riddled with plague, and sickness, and barrenness. It is parched (all has now become parched as threatened in Deuteronomy 29:19) with brimstone, salt and burning, symbols of barrenness and destruction. It is no longer sown, it no longer produces grain or fruit, no grass grows on it. It has become like Sodom and Gomorrah, like Admah and Zeboiim which Yahweh overthrew in His anger. The picture is not one of exile but of judgment (Genesis 19:28 with Genesis 14:2). The land is devastated.
Then the bewildered children who are growing up amidst the devastation, and the foreigners who have come from far (and possibly wrought the devastation - see Deuteronomy 28:49) will look on it with horror as to how this could have come about in the land of milk and honey.
When any asks what has brought this sad state about, the witnesses to the covenant will reply, ‘It was because they broke their covenant with Yahweh.’
‘ Even all the nations will say, “For what reason has Yahweh done thus to this land? What does the heat of this great anger mean?” ’
And all the nations will ask, ‘why has Yahweh done this to the land? What is the reason for His great anger? What does it all mean?’
‘ Then men will say, “Because they forsook the covenant of Yahweh, the God of their fathers, which he made with them when he brought them forth out of the land of Egypt, and went and served other gods, and worshipped them, gods that they knew not, and that he had not given to them,”
And the reply will come that it was because they forsook the covenant of Yahweh, the God of their fathers, which He made with them when He delivered them from Egypt. The crime was deep because it was not only their own covenant that they had broken, but the covenant made with their fathers. They had not only broken their own promises but had frustrated God’s purposes in and for the world. And how had they done it? By seeking to other gods, and serving them, and worshipping them, strange and unknown gods (compare Deuteronomy 28:64) which He had not given them (compare Deuteronomy 4:19). They had not acted within His will, but against it, in direct contravention of His covenant. They had dallied with other overlords. And this was the consequence.
“ That is why the anger of Yahweh was kindled against this land, to bring on it all the curse which is written in this book, and Yahweh rooted them out of their land in anger, and in wrath, and in great indignation, and cast them into another land, as at this day.”
That would be why they had been turned out of the land, rooted out by Yahweh in ‘His anger, His wrath, His great indignation’. The threefoldness reveals the inexorability of His anger. And He had then inevitably cast them out into another land. This was not ‘a prophecy of the Exile’. It was simply describing the inevitable result of disobedience in Yahweh’s land. Their possessing the land would in fact be dependent on whether they were obedient or not. This fate being described had been made clear from the beginning, if they failed to be true to the covenant (Deuteronomy 4:25-28). It was rooted in the fact that the land was Yahweh’s. Their fathers had been driven out of the land because they had entered it in unbelief (Deuteronomy 1:44). The Canaanites had had to be cast out of the land because of their wickedness. For none could live in the land who were not obedient to Him. It was the inevitable consequence that must follow once they began to compromise with any who defiled the land. This was not so much a prophecy as a declaration of inevitability.
And the reason why He had done this was that in His anger He was bringing on them ‘all the curse written in this book’. The reference of these descriptions to Deuteronomy 28:0 is unmistakable.
And the harsh lesson for us is that if we also fail in our true response to God, then inevitably at one point or another there will be a price to pay. God is not mocked. Whatever a man sows he will reap. If we allow our idols of wealth, and fun, and lust, and sport, and music to take out hearts away from God then we must expect judgment as well.
‘ The secret things belong to Yahweh our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children for ever, that we may do all the words of this law.’
He stresses that he was not trying to dictate to God. He was not seeking to pierce the veil of the inscrutability of Yahweh. It was not for him or for them to be dogmatic about God’s doings. There was much that was unknown to him, and to them all, the secret things which belonged to their covenant God, ‘Yahweh our God’. They could not yet know those. Compare Isaiah 55:8-9.
But what they could know were the things that were revealed, and what he had been speaking about were some of them. God had revealed to them sufficient of them. He had revealed His instruction, He had revealed to them His covenant, and that was in order that they and their children might observe them for ever. None of what he had described need happen. That was not God’s purpose. God purpose was that His people might ‘do all the words of this Instruction’. They had sufficient to go on, and it was all that was needed.
If some of us concentrated less on understanding ‘the secret things’ and more on obeying the known things we would be the more greatly blessed.
Alternately, and quite likely, this verse may be a reference to the curses in Deuteronomy 27:13 onwards, the curses over secret sins. It may then be saying that Yahweh would deal with secret sins, but they must be ready to deal with open sins in accordance with His instruction, and thus avoid the fate described previously.
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Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Deuteronomy 29". "Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 21 / Ordinary 26