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Deuteronomy 18:15-22

Deuteronomy 26:1-11

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 chapters 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 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 has 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 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 there went into exile. It was their own disobedience that lead them there.

Context of Deuteronomy 18:15-22
Deuteronomy 18:15-22 comes in the central section (5-26) which has laws governing worship, offices and institutions. A number of scholars take Deut 16:18 - 18:22 as a section which has different headings applied to it. Clements names it 'Public Authority and Leadership' (Clements: NIB: 289), whereas Biddle follows some earlier scholars (eg. Braulik) and sees the section as an explication of the fourth commandment (Biddle: 277). It appears to me that those scholars who want to fit Deut 12-26 into a neat linear arrangement based on the ten commandments are pushing the limits of commonsense. Deut 14:21 spells out what animals the people are allowed to eat to maintain cleanliness, followed by laws related to tithing with especial reference to care for the Levite, the widow and fatherless. This care is continued in Deut 15 with laws regarding the release of debts and slaves after every seven years and Deut 16:1-17 names three festivals which the Israelites must keep - Passover, Feast of Weeks and Feast of Booths. Deut 16:18-20 sets out very clearly the qualities of the judges who will deal with the both religious and moral misbehaviors named in Deut 17:1-13. From there we move to the nature of kings (Deut 17:14-20), then the care of the Levitical priests who have no inheritance of their own and rely on the people to provide for them (Deut 18:1-8). Before we get to the description and role of a prophet there is a strong condemnation of certain rituals and those who act in such roles which are practiced by the nations (Deut 18:9-14). Following God's promise to raise up prophets, Deut 19-21 requires the nation to set up cities of refuge, and spells out the difference between manslaughter and murder. This theme is carried through in relation to warfare in Deut 20. It is worth reading some of the very caring laws in Deut 22:1-4, 6-7, 8; others we would find offensive today. Deut 12-26 is very different from the laws in the Book of Leviticus which deal with issues of sacrifice and priestly duties.

Insights/Message of Deuteronomy 18:15-22

Literary: Deut 17-18 appears to have a definite structure which reflects the Deuteronomic theology.  Judges are set in positive light and dealt with first before kings are mentioned. The king is set up by God who will write a copy of the law as in Deut 12-26 and read it every day. Both judges and kings have some negative qualities named. The role and care of the Levitical priests in Deut 18:1-8 is very different from that of the Aaronic priesthood in the book of Leviticus. Before we get to the role and authority of the prophet we have a list of those people who are not to be consulted, such as, diviner, sorcerer, medium etc (Deut 18:9-14). Deut 18:15 states from the start who will be responsible for the advent of prophets. God is the one who will raise up a prophet who will model Moses. As the people wanted Moses to speak to God on their behalf so they continue to want a person who will speak with God and relay the message. Deut 18:16-17 are a commentary on Deut 5:23-26 which explains their reason for a prophet like Moses. V.18 repeats v.15 and makes the point emphatically when God speaks in the first person reiterating that it is indeed God who will raise up a prophet like Moses, and will provide the words to be proclaimed. A prophet can speak only if they are sure that it is the word of God they are hearing. The verses which are omitted from the lectionary reading declare that only those words which come from God will come true. Some of the books in the Deuteronomic History demonstrate this point by recording those times when a prophecy spoken by the prophet comes true. This is particularly the case in the books of Judges and Kings (eg. the prophecy of Elijah in 1 Kgs 21 is fulfilled in 1 Kgs 22:37-38).

Message: The Deuteronomistic History (Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, 1 & 11 Samuel, 1 & 11 Kings) endeavors to show the people why they ended in exile. The prophets played a major role in speaking God's word calling them back to the first commandment, which is to worship God alone. It was this failure by kings and people which led to the demise of the Davidic kingship, loss of land and temple according to the writers. However, in all fairness it is very difficult to apply the test of future fulfillment when one is hearing the prophet's warning in the midst of a crisis. It is easy in hindsight to say the people should have listened to Jeremiah and not Hananiah (Jer 27-29). To apply this criteria today is equally difficult because those who feel called to proclaim God's word believe it is the authentic word of God. It is much easier to be clear about a 'prophet' versus the list of those prohibited in Deut 18:10-11. Some of the practices such as divination, are found in popular form today, such as reading horoscopes. Tarot cards and other ways of reading the future are popular with people. However, a prophet is not about divining personal futures, but proclaiming God's word into a situation which needs to change. A Hebrew prophet's message is often unpopular especially in the pre-exilic period. All the offices (judge, king, priest prophet) named in Deut 16:18-18:22 come under the direct authority of God and by God's express command. Israel's political and social order is theocratic. Israel came into being as a nation because God chose them.

Resources/Worship for Deuteronomy 18:15-22

Resources: Commentaries:

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 Deuteronomy, the author is Ronald Clements, 1989 (Deuteronomy)

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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