Deuteronomy: Introductory Notes

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Deuteronomy: Introductory Notes

Copyright © June 8, 2016 Douglas W. Jerving.
All Rights Reserved.


Introductory Notes

Studies based on my marginal notes in the Word Biblical Commentary series, vol 6a, Deuteronomy 1-11 by Duane L. Christensen.

Based on my marginal notes, p. xl:

Christensen says “As a legal document, Deuteronomy is essentially a national ‘constitution’..." And again, “Though it contains a series of laws, it is not a law code as such, but rather a work intended for religious instruction and education in ancient Israel.” (xl)

So which is it? A law code or religious education? Certainly it is both in many respects, but how should we view it specifically? Since it is obviously built upon the suzerainty covenant patterns typical of all ancient middle eastern covenant documents of its time, going back even as far as Abraham in Canaan, it is fair to assume that Deuteronomy is a unilateral legal document between the King/ Suzerain (YHWH God) and His subjects (Israel). (See Meredith G. Kline, Treaty of the Great King. The Covenant Structure of Deuteronomy. Studies and Commentary, 1963).

Christensen contradicts himself since the first sentence quoted above makes the “polis”, or national constitution as he calls it, the basic theme of the book, and it cannot be merely a book of religious instruction. Whatever Deuteronomy became in later Israel, in its original context (Mosaism) it is undeniably a book of covenantal law. It is exactly what Christensen’s first sentence quoted above says. It is only consequently and historical-developmentally what the second quote implies.

Inherently, Deuteronomy is a re-establishing of the law first given to Israel after they emerged from Egypt with the second generation who were about to enter the Promised land. Just as much as the Law of the Covenant set forth in Exodus was the first legal document between YHWH and Israel so is Deuteronomy the re-establishment of that same law for the next and following generation(s). The first generation failed to abide by the stipulations and suffered the penalties of their infidelity to the covenant. The second generation was now admonished to heed the law their fathers had disdained. They were enjoined to obey lest they also lose the promises of obedience.

This is law, not just good religious advice. Law always attends penalty for disobedience and favor for maintenance. That is the basic theme of Deuteronomy, and of all ancient suzerainty covenants upon which Deuteronomy is based. The law is a unilateral device, not bilateral, in which the vassal has some room to make up his own decisions about what he will or will not obey. YHWH says, again, after forty years, this is what I require of you, absolutely, and without reservation. This is not just good advice. I will bless you if you do these exact things. I will curse you if you refuse to do these things. The only choice you have is to obey or disobey.


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