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Deut 34:1-12

Deuteronomy 34:1-12

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 Deut 34:1-12
We left Moses in Ex 33 -34 with the promise of a renewed covenant by Yahweh. There follows the building of the tabernacle before leading into the Book of Leveticus with its laws about purity, right worship and duties of the the priests. The Book of Numbers continues the journey into the wilderness and to the edge of Canaan. The Book of Deuteronomy expands the laws given to Moses who declares it to the people as shown in structure above. In the immediate context of Deut 34 we find Deut 26:1-11 which comes at the end of the central section (5-26) and contains laws governing worship, offices and institutions. Prior to Deuteronomy 26 there is a mixture of laws which name those people who are excluded from the community (23:1-25), those who are protected (24:1-22), and the maintenance of order and justice (25:1-19). It is worth reading some of the laws because they are very caring of people within the community. They are very different from the laws in the Book of Leviticus which deal with laws of sacrifice and priestly duties.

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. Moses commisions Joshua in his duties as the next leader, gives the Levites instructions about the Ark and then blesses the people before we read of his death in Deut 34.

Insights/Message of Duet 34:1-12
Deut 34a is the continuation of Deut 32:15 and is interrupted by the Blessing (Deut 33) given by Moses to the children of Israel. Moses is shown the promised land from the top of Mt Nebo and as prophecied earlier will not lead the people into it the promised land (Deut 32:48-52). Pisgah is the place which Balok, King of Moab took Balaam to curse Israel. It now represents the place from which Moses can see the future blessing for Israel. This chapter finalizes the events with Moses which began in Exod 1 in which the Pharaoh was threatened by the increased number sof Hebrew people. Now, the people are on the edge of the land and the Book of Joshua tells of these events which culminate in the loss of the land at the end of the Books of Kings (Brueggemann:287). Vv.1-4 looks like a survey of the land which Moses in casting his eye over gives some legal imprematur too. The repetition on "eyes" and "seeing" throughout these verses give theological emphases: God lets Moses see the land; the eyes of Moses were still in good health and all his deeds had been in the sight of Israel. The inner frame literary of "eyes and seeing" used the verb "to know" as another important theological emphasis: no-one "knows" the place of burial except Yahweh and the Lord "knew" Moses face to face (Christensen: 866). Vv.5-9 give details of the death of Moses: his burial place in general, his age and notice of the grieving of the people. V. 9 verifies what we have been told previously that Joshua was the chosen leader to follow Moses, but was second to Moses. The implication could be that Joshua was like Solomon because like Solomon, he had the spirit of wisdom (Christensen: 872). In Exodus 24 Joshua was up the mountain with Moses, at another point he was in the tent and in the previous chapter he recieves last minute instructions from Moses. The final three verses of the Book of Deuteronomy give a brief review of Moses' deeds. So here endeth the eulogy. In Exod 33 Yahweh hid the face of Moses so that Moses wouldn't see the face of the Lord, but as in other places Moses is able to see the Lord face to face.

Message:This last chapter verifies and demonstrates that the promises which God made generations ago to Abraham have indeed come true. The promise of land is there before them through all the hardships and waywardness of the people who attempted to thwart God's purposes. The people are on the edge of the land with Joshua as their leader. They will always know Moses as the major person who brought them out of Egypt and who gave them the Law of Yahweh. However, the narrative progresses to demonstrate how the promises about land to Abraham (Gen 12:1-3) are worked out with Joshua as leader (Books of Joshua and Judges).

For Christians, Moses foreshadows many of the things which Christ did: Jesus brings salvation, sees God face to face, spents time in the wilderness, provides food for the people, the disciples experience Christ passing them by in the boat as Moses knew God passed by in the wilderness. Both Moses and Jesus are known as prophets. To know the stories of the Old Testament can enable us to appreciate how much our faith arises from that of the Jews and when we read the New Testament we see the close connections.

OT images/motifs used in the New Testament reading: Mth 22:34-46: The commands quoted by Jesus here are a direct combination of words from Deut 6:4 - "you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul and with all your might" and Lev 19: 18 - "you shall love your neighbour as yourself". Jesus has taken them from 2 different contexts and made them into the 'Great Command' which puts the vertical relationship with God as priority and from that should stem the relationship with neighbour. If we were able to live this fully we would not need any other laws and commands. In Matt 22:41-46, Jesus challenges the Pharisees with his question to them about whose son is the Christ and then uses Ps110:1 to confound them.

Resources/Worship for Deur 34:1-12


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 Exodus (Johnstone).

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.

*Brueggemann, Walter. "The Book of Exodus: Introduction, Commentary, and Reflections". In The New Interpreter's Bible, Vol. 1. Nashville: Abingdon, 1994.
Childs, Brevard S. The Book of Exodus: A Critical, Theological Commentary. OTL. Philadelphia: Westminster Press, [1974].
Coats, George W. The Moses Tradition. Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1993.
Durham, John I. Exodus. WBC. Waco, Tex.: Word Books, 1987.
*Fretheim, Terrence E. Exodus. Int. Louisville, Ky.: John Knox Press, 1991.
Gowan, Donald E. Theology in Exodus: Biblical Theology in the Form of a Commentary. Louisville, Ky.: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1994.
*Johnstone, W. Exodus. OTG. Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1990.
Moberly, R. W. L. At the Mountain of God: Story and Theology in Exodus 32-34. Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1982.
Sarna, Nahum M. Exploring Exodus: The Heritage of Biblical Israel. New York: Schocken Books, 1986.

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

Web sites with helpful lectionary resources: 

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