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Deuteromomy 30:15-20

Deuteronomy 30:15-20
Background to the Book of Deuteronomy
Literary Features:
The Book of Deuteronomy stands as the fifth and final book in the Pentateuch (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy) and as the first book in the Deuteronomistic History (Deuteronomy, 1 & 11 Samuel, 1 & 11 Kings). Consequently, one must regard it as very important in the canon. Furthermore, this is affirmed in the number of scrolls or fragments of the Book of Deuteronomy found in the Qumran Caves in 1947 (25 copies of Deuteronomy). The Book of Deuteronomy reflects ethical, social and religious laws from an agrarian society. Some of the laws are part of very early Israelite traditions and they would have been part of the oral tradition before collected and arranged in the present Book.

The book begins at the point where the people of Israel are at the end of their wanderings and stand on the edge of the promised land looking in. There is quite a deliberate structure to the book in which the central section of laws in Chapters 12-26 are surrounded by other material. Deuteronomy 5-11 includes the Decalogue 5:1-21 and Shema 6:4-5 + teaching and a short historical section, 9:7b-10:11. Chapters 1-5 contain some historical retrospective together with some teaching material in Deuteronomy 4. The final chapters of the book reflect material from different periods: Deuteronomy 28, blessings/ curses, Deuteronomy 29-30, further address of Moses insisting upon faithfulness and covenant demands and Deuteronomy 31-34 a number of appendices which end with the record of the death of Moses.

Deuteronomy often refers to itself as the Law (29:21, 30:10, 31:26) and when the law is referred to in Joshua - 11 Kings, it means the book of Deuteronomy. It contains both APODICTIC (absolute- you shall) and CASUISTIC (conditional - if ... then ...). There are some very close similarities to the laws in Ex 20:23 - 23:19 (Book of the Covenant). Clements demonstrates how the early laws are changed, e.g., Ex 21:12-14 is expanded in Deuteronomy 19:1-13 (p.25). It is often called preached law because it has a teaching feel to it, and covers all areas of common life: debtors, poor 15:7-18, proper worship, care of animals 22:6, and women rate higher than in previous laws.

There is some similarity to the Hittite Treaty Form and it was not the first time an Israelite writer has used a form know within the surrounding culture and adapted it for his own theological purpose. Elements of Hittite Treaty form as depicted in Deuteronomy

1. Preamble 1:1-5
2. Historical prologue 1:6-4:44
3. Statement of General Principles 5-11
4. Detailed obligations on the people 12-26
5. Directions as to future reading and depositing of treaty 31-34
6. Witness of gods (this element is missing because there is only one God)
7. Curses and blessings 27-30

Once you have read the book of Deuteronomy you will know its distinctive style which is both eloquent and flowing, and very repetitive with familiar phrases. For example: Hear O Israel, who brought you out of the land, with a might hand, a land flowing with milk and honey, use of the verb 'to choose', to go after other gods, to obey the voice of God, to walk in God's ways, to do what is evil in the sight of God, fear the Lord your God, laws, testimonies and statutes.

Historical Background:
In 11 Kings 22-23 the Law Book is found in the temple during a clean up operation and taken to the prophet Huldah who reads it to King Josiah. The Law Book which probably consisted of Deutereonomy 5-26, confirm Josiah's religious reforms and is the Basis for his move to centralise worship in Jerusalem. It is much easier to eradicate wrong worship practices when they are in one centre rather than scattered across the countryside.

The laws reflect many situations of Israelite life but read as a whole book they have some distinct messages which reflect a situation in which there is a very real fear that the Israelite people and their leaders are so unfaithful in the extreme that there might be a total loss of Yahwistic worship. This is seen in emphases as the Call to ONE God, ONE people and ONE cult. Yahweh is the only God for Israel, no other gods, he chose them to be nation. They are unique because of what God has done; he has given them the land, he drives out people from the promised land, prophets are given and there is both a transcendent and imminent God. They are Holy nation because they were chosen by God and yet they were rebellious and stubborn. Moses suffers because of the people's sin and is not allowed into the land. Obedience is called for and in response to obedience they will receive a blessing and the land. If people are disobedient then land will be lost. People are to remember and pass on their experience of God to their children. It includes caring requirements for people - a cloak taken for debt has to be returned at night for the person to sleep in.

The prose material in Jeremiah has close similarities to the theology and style of this writing in Deuteronomy. It was getting desperate in Jerusalem after the death of Josiah and the Babylonians were defeating all the countries so what remained of the people living in Judah and Jerusalem must have been living with some fear. This call to obedience was a last ditch call to avoid being over run by the Babylonians and indeed it reads as an explanation at times for why they went into exile. It was their own disobedience that lead them there.

Context of Deut 30:15-20
Deuteronomy 26 completes the central section (5-26) of the book which has laws governing worship, offices and institutions. Chapter 26 deals with offering of thanksgiving because of all that God has given to them. Following the commands to offer thanksgiving to God are instructions for the people once they enter into the promised land (Deuteronomy 27). As part of the instructions there is a reminder that they have to be obedient and then half the tribes stand on one mountain while the other have stand on another and perform a ritual of curses and blessings. The initial curses are in short succinct statements (Deuteronomy 27:15-26), but the blessings and curses in Deuteronomy 28 are more in the form of short sermons. The constant repetition and proclamation about the need to be obedient and the benefits from obedience leaves one wondering how bad the situation must have been for such an unvarying message. The text is part of the wider 3rd speech given by Moses as they are on the edge of the promised land in Moab, there is another historical preview before we get to the message in Deut 30. Joshua is commissioned in Deut 31 and the law given to the Levites. Moses death is pronounced for the near future, followed by a final song.

Insights/Message of Deut 30:15-20
Literary: The chapter is divided into three major sectiuons: Deut 30:1-10 = an appeal which is based around the theme of repentance; vv.11-14 = assurance that obedience is possible; vv.15-20 = dramatic summons for decision to choose life or death (Brueggemann: 266). According to McConville this chapter is part of an unified structure which runs from 29:2-30:20 and presupposes the blessings and curses which were part of Deut 28 (McConville: 423). Olson says that Deut 5 is a road map for the remainder of the book (this literary form is present in other places) and Deut 29-32 corresponds to the new covenant proclaimed in Deut 5:22-31 (Olson: 126). The repetition of the word 'life' in both its noun and verbal forms emphases that this is the main emphasis of this section and needs to be given full import (McConville: 430). Its counterpart 'death' is not mentioned so often but both words form an inclusio (envelope) in vv.15 and 19. Any objections the people might make about the choice being too difficult have already been dealt with in vv.11-14 (Biddle: 446). They are assured the command is not to hard and indeed the right word is already within them ready to be spoken. Vv.15-20 are set out in a structure which gives the condition and command with the positive consequences (v.16). However, if they fail to do this THEN the consequences of their failure are set out in vv.17-18. As in Ancient Near Eastern Treaties any covenant agreement had to be witnessed by cosmic entities. This is not the first time that God calls on the creation to witness in court type proceedings in the case which God brings against Israel. Creation has a voice in the Old Testament and plays an important role on behalf of God. This aspect of Creation is carried on in the Celtic tradition but is silenced in the other Christian traditions.

Message / Theology: The climax of the whole book can be seen in these verses 15-20. The people have to make a decision about who they will make their focus and be willing to follow God completely. It reads as Moses speaking in Moab before the people enter the land. It is a warning that unless they keep God's commandments and remain faithful they will not last long in the land. It can also read as a call to them when they are returning to the land after exile in Babylon. They have experienced the consequences of their disobedience and yet God's compassion will give them another chance. While it promises a restoration to the land and of the people there is no promise about restored monarchy or temple.They have the assurance in vv.11-14 that their response is within. The commandments are on the heart and not on tablets of stone or on parchment. Indeed, it is God who will circumcise the heart in order to receive the knowledge of what is right. There are very close links here with the Jeremiah covenant in Jer 31. The decision they have to make is presented in very stark terms - life or death. Verse 19b reiterates the plea to choose life with the reminder that this choice does not only affect the present generation but all future ones. Rather than the conditional 'if' as in v.16 it now becomes a method by which the people will achieve life - loving the Lord your God, obeying his voice, and cleaving to him; (v.20a).

As Christians we have to choose between life and death. Life is received when we choose to follow Christ and we are given the grace to live in obedience to what we know is right - to do justice, love kindness & walk humbly with our God. The concept that we know within what is required of us arises from the relationship we have with Christ & God. Although our faith is not understood as conditional, it is true that if we choose to turn away from God we suffer because of this failure to be faithful. We know also, that if we turn to God then the grace and compassion of God is available to us. Both these elements are present in the Deuteronomy reading and should not be polarized as some scholars want to to do. Both God's decision to act with compassion and the need for the people to repent are present (turn again). Luther makes a number of comments about the law being easy to comply with based on Deut 30:11-14. He thinks this denies the need for grace if we are able to do this on our own. I don't think the Deuteronomic writer would want to disagree with Luther and indeed in the context of the whole chapter I think it is clear that God's initial action (circumcision of the heart) is the means by which God's word will be within and easy for them to proclaim.

OT images/motifs used in the New Testament reading: Mth 5:21-37: v.21 uses the commandment against murder but adds to it by saying that even when a person is angry they are liable to judgement. Jesus gives a twist on the commandments of the Old Testament which would catch the audience's attention. As is done in the next one in v.27-28 in which not only is adultery a sin but even looking at a woman with lust is a sin. This is the case again in vv.31-32 in which there is only one ground for divorce and it is prohibited to marry a divorced woman. Jesus condemns the easy divorce laws which a husband can invoke and Jesus says as a Christian there is a different ethic now. Verses 33-34 are an allusion rather than a direct quote. It is an interesting statement in light of the laws presently in Pakistan which have the death penalty for swearing and a government minister is assassinated because he wants to repeal them.

Resources/Worship for Deut 30:15-20
Again this Psalm expresses the ideas present in the OT reading

The Old Testament Guides (OTG) by Sheffield Academic Press are an excellent small resource which give many suggestions for readings on particular aspects in the book of Isaiah.

The New Interpreter's Bible is another very helpful resource and published in the late 1990's - 2002 is more up to date than some earlier works.

Brown, Raymond E. The Message of Deuteronomy: Not by Bread Alone. Downers Grove, Ill.: Inter-Varsity Press, 1993.
Brueggemann, Walter. Deuteronomy. Abingdon Old Testament Commentaries Nashville, Tenn.: Abingdon Press, c2001.
Cairns, Ian. Word & Presence: A Commentary on the Book of Deuteronomy. Grand Rapids, Mich.: W. B. Eerdmans, 1992.
Clements. R E. "The Book of Deuteronomy: Introduction, Commentary, and Reflections". In The New Interpreter's Bible. Vol. 2. Nashville: Abingdon, 1998.
*---. Deuteronomy, OTG. Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1989.
---. God's Chosen People: A Theological Interpretation of the Book of Deuteronomy. London: SCM, 1969.
Christensen, Duane L. Deuteronomy 21:10-34:12. Word Biblical Commentary, v. 6B
Nashville, Tenn.: Thomas Nelson Publishers, c2002.
Mayes, A. D. H. Deuteronomy: Based on the Revised Standard Version. NCB. Grand Rapids, Mich.: W. B. Eerdmans; London: Marshall, Morgan & Scott, 1981, c1979.
[also published by: Greenwood, S. C.: Attic Press, 1979.]
Millar, J. Gary. Now Choose Life: Theology and Ethics in Deuteronomy. Leicester, England: Apollos, 1998.
*Miller, Patrick D. Deuteronomy. Int. Louisville, Ky.: Westminster John Knox Press, 1990.
*Olson, Dennis T. Deuteronomy and the Death of Moses: A Theological Reading. Minneapolis, Minn.: Fortress, 1994.
Rad, Gerhard von. Deuteronomy. OTL. London: SCM 1966.
Weinfeld, Moshe. Deuteronomy 1-11: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary. AB, Doubleday, New York, 1991.

The Dramatised Bible: ed. Michael Perry. London: Marshall Pickering: Bible Society, 1989

Web sites with helpful lectionary resources: 

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