Jason L. Kortering is pastor of the Protestant Reformed Church of Grandville, Michigan.
In the book of Deuteronomy, we do not have additional laws given by Moses. Rather we have a review of the instructions which God gave the people at Mt. Sinai, for the people who were about to enter the land of Canaan. The book is divided into four parts: the first discourse of Moses (Deut. 1:1-4:43), the second discourse of Moses (Deut. 4:44-26:19), the third discourse of Moses (Deut. 27:1-30:20), and the last words of Moses, including the record of his death (Deut. 31:1-34:12).
With our outlining, we are in the midst of the second discourse of Moses, beginning at Deuteronomy 19:14.
We have a series of general instructions regarding residence in Palestine. Mention is made of the landmarks which were set in old times marking each one’s inheritance. They were not to be removed (Deut. 19:14). Accusations against anyone of evil had to be sustained by two or three witnesses, and false witnesses had to be removed (Deut. 19:15-21). When Israel was ready to engage in battle with an enemy, they were to be encouraged by the officers by the reminder that Jehovah was the One Who went before them in battle. If anyone had built a new house and had not yet dedicated it, or planted a vineyard ,and not eaten of it, or become .betrothed to a woman and had not yet taken her, or was fainthearted for battle, he was instructed to return home, (Deut. 20:1-9). In attacking cities in battle, those which were in the land of Canaan had to be completely destroyed and all its inhabitants, lest they corrupt the people by their evil influence. Concerning cities, which were farther away, they could offer peace to them, and if accepted make them tributaries; but if not accepted, they should kill all the men and keep the women, children, and possessions for themselves. In the process of battle they should not destroy trees good for food (Deut. 20:10-20). If the body of one slain would be found in the field, the elders of the city closest to it would redeem the city by taking a heifer to a deserted valley and cutting off its head and washing their hands over it, acknowledging before God that they did not know the murderer, and asking God to put away the guilt (Deut. 21:1-9). Reference is made to the taking of a wife from among the women captured in battle. If an Israelite discovers a beautiful woman among them, he may take her to wife. Only she had to shave off all her hair and cut her nails and bewail her captivity for one month. After this the man may take her to wife, and if he delight in her, keep her. If not, he may let her go, only he may not sell her for money. Similarly, if a man has two wives, one loved the other hated, if the firstborn son is of the wife whom he hates, he must give him all the privileges of the firstborn, even though he hates his mother (Deut. 21:10-17). A stubborn and disobedient son who lived as a glutton and drunkard was to be taken to the elders of the city, and they were to stone him to death (Deut. 21:18-21). The body of a person put to death by hanging was not, to remain on the tree at night, for that would defile the land (Deut. 21:22, 23). Any lost property belonging to the neighbor had to be returned. Also a fallen animal had to be lifted up (Deut. 22:1-4). Men and women were forbidden to wear the clothes of the opposite sex (Deut. 22:5). Care had to be taken to preserve life in the midst of nature (bird’s nests), and at home, by providing safety on the roof of a house (Deut. 22:6-9). Separation was emphasized: an ox or ass could not plow together, wool and linen could not be worn together, equal fringes had to be on garments (Deut. 22:10-12). We then have a few instructions concerning marriage. A women is given in marriage to a man, and if he later claims that she was not a virgin, the evidence of her virginity has to be brought to the elders. If he is found to be a false accuser, then he is to pay 100 shekels of silver to the father of the woman for the evil brought upon his family, and she has to remain his wife. If there is no evidence of her virginity, she is to be stoned to death (Deut. 22:13-21). If a man lay with either a married woman or betrothed virgin and she does not cry out, both are to be stoned to death. If this fornication takes place in the field, where no one could hear her cries, only the man is to be stoned. If a man forces a virgin not betrothed, he must pay her father 50 shekels of silver and take her to wife. In no case was a man to take his father’s wife (Deut. 22:22-30). The congregation of Israel is to be consecrated to God. Hence all unclean are to abstain from coming among the people, e.g. eunuchs, bastards, the Ammonite, and Moabite to the tenth generation (Deut. 23:1-8). The people are to purify themselves and remove all abominations when they go forth to battle (Deut. 23:9-14). A runaway slave could be kept in one’s house, but harlots and homosexuals were banished (Deut. 23:15-18). Usury (making money by charging interest) was forbidden among the people, but could be practiced with strangers (Deut. 23:19, 20). Vows were to be freely taken, but once taken they had to be kept (Deut. 23:21-23). Grapes and corn could be eaten freely from the neighbor’s field, only none could take extra home with them (Deut. 23:24, 25). A bill of divorcement is described: a man marries a woman in whom he finds some uncleanness and he puts her away. Once put away he may not marry her again (Deut. 24:1-4). A newly married man was exempt from war and business for one year, in order that he might cheer up his wife. A millstone was not to be taken as pledge for debt (it was his livelihood). If a man pledged his garments, it could only be for that day, and kidnapping required the death penalty. They are reminded to keep the laws regarding leprosy (Deut. 24:5-13). Hired servants who were poor and depended on daily wages had to be paid (Deut. 24:14, 15). Children were not to be punished for sins of fathers, nor fathers for children’s (Deut. 24:16). The stranger’s judgment was not to be perverted, nor a widow’s raiment taken in pledge (Deut. 24:17, 18). Gleanings were to be left in the field and on the trees for the poor (Deut. 24: 19-22). Corporal punishment for an offender was limited to forty stripes (Deut. 25:1-3). The ox is not to be muzzled when he treads corn (Deut. 25:4). If a man dies, his widow is to be married to his surviving brother and the firstborn son shall take on the name of his brother. If the brother desires not to marry, he shall give account to the elders of the city and the brother’s wife shall come and loose one of his shoes and spit in his face and say, “So shall it be done to that man that will not build up his brother’s house.” His name is to be “one who has the loosed shoe” (Deut. 25:5-10). If two men are fighting and the wife of one comes to intervene and grabs him by his genitals, her hand is to be cut off (Deut. 25:11, 12). Dishonest weights are forbidden (Deut. 25:13-16). The people are reminded of Amalek’s sin when he attacked the feeble of the congregation. They are to blot out his name when they arrive in Canaan. Also, they are to offer to God the firstfruits which they would gather from the entire land and rehearse before God His providential care shown in the journey (Deut. 25: 17-26:11). They are reminded of the importance of tithing for the sake of the Levite, stranger, fatherless and widows. They are to be glad in this and keep the laws which God commanded, for therein are they a special people before Him (Deut. 26:12-19).
4. Moses’ third discourse (Deut. 27:1-30:20). Instruction is now given that when Israel crosses the river into Canaan, a special ceremony is to be conducted. The law is to be written upon plastered stones set up in Mt. Ebal, in connection with an altar built of field stones, and offerings made to Jehovah. This is a reminder to keep God’s law. Mt. Gerizim is the mountain of blessing and Ebal the mountain of cursing. A list of curses follows (Deut. 27:1-26). By hearkening diligently unto the Lord, Moses assured them God would bless them. A list of such blessings follows (Deut. 28:1-14). Once again a list of curses follows, an indication that the people would be unfaithful and should be warned of this very carefully. Many of the curses are prophetic of what will happen to them, e.g. in the eventual captivity in Babylon (Deut. 28:15-68). Moses then proceeds to instruct the children of Israel in the covenant which Jehovah established with them. He does this in addition to the words which God gave at Mt. Sinai. This is now in the land of Moab. He rehearses the loving care of God shown during the forty years in the wilderness. They had bread to eat, water to drink, their shoes did not wear out, and God even protected them from the enemies (Deut. 29:1-9). He calls the people to witness that they stand before Jehovah with their families and tribes to assume loyalty to God. They are not to turn to the gods of the heathen lest Jehovah will punish them, and the land be consumed before them—a reference to the eventual captivity (Deut. 29:10-29). On the other hand, Moses assures them that in the way of repentance, God will receive them and give them a new, circumcised heart, and bless them richly by returning them to their land and maintaining His covenant with them (Deut. 30:1-10). A final summary is given, “See, I have set before thee this day life and good, and death and evil, in that I commend thee to love the Lord thy God, to walk in his ways, and to keep his commandments” (Deut. 30:11-20).
5. This is the final section of the book, Moses’ last words and the record of his death (Deut. 31:1-34:12). Moses reminds the people that they are now by the edge of Canaan. He will not be able to go with them into the land, but Joshua will go before them. God will destroy all the nations that occupy the land. They are not to fear since Jehovah will go with them (Deut. 31:1-6). He gives the same encouragement to Joshua (Deut. 31:7, 8). Moses presents to the priests written copies of the laws which he rehearsed before them and instructs them to read these to the people every seventh year (Deut. 31:9-13). Both Moses and Joshua were instructed by God to appear before Him in the tabernacle, and the Lord appeared before them in the pillar of cloud. Jehovah now instructs Joshua of Moses’ death and the coming apostasy of the children of Israel. He gives to them a song which must be committed to memory by the congregation, so that when evil days come they may recall God’s promises in the singing of this song (Deut. 31:14-23). The law which was presented to the priests must be kept in the ark of the covenant (Deut. 31:24-30).