Deuteronomy. The Holy Bible. New King James Version. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1982.
After 40 years of wondering, the Israelites are about to enter the land God promised to their forefathers. Their leader and prophet, Moses, won’t be entering with them because of his sin in the wilderness, God ordained that he would not go in. He appoints Joshua to lead the people.
This is the setting of Deuteronomy. The name means “repetition of the law” because Moses takes the opportunity to reiterate to this generation the history of Israel and the law God has given them. Much of the Deuteronomy is a reiteration of the laws found in the books that precede it.
The law, recorded by Moses in writing, was comprehensive. The ecclesiastical law covered religious ceremonies. Other laws dealt with crime and punishment, dealing with accidental deaths, sanitation, construction, safety, marriage, family, commerce, foreign affairs, war, property, inheritance, contracts and other issues of importance to a people who are to live together peaceably. It was not he first recorded law, and it contrasts with its antecedents in its relative humanity, value of life, and emphasis on God. The Israelites were to eradicate the inhabitants of the promised land, God had proclaimed it as a judgment for those nations’ wickedness, but otherwise they were to treat law-abiding foreigners who live among them with fairness, even generosity, which was rare in ancient times and certainly not what they were experiencing when they fled Egypt.
Deuteronomy is not necessarily boring or devoid of new material. It is full of hope and warnings for a nation that was finally coming into its own. God, speaking through Moses, foretold that the people would fall away from the law and that trouble would follow. He foretold that they would seek a king some 400 years before they put a crown on Saul’s high head. The coming of Christ was also predicted.
Moses also composed a song. It was intended to help the people to remember their God, their history, and the law. After teaching them the song, he blesses the tribes of Israel.
It seems sad that Moses, who led Israel out of Egypt and in the wilderness, and who was faithful in comparison to his fellows, would die before he could enter the promised land. God led him up on a mountain to see the whole land that another generation of Israelites, raised in the hardships of the wilderness and fed from God’s special provision, would take. With this vision in his eyes, alone with God on a mountain, he died.
Even at this moment of Moses’ death, we see a picture of God’s justice and mercy mingled. It was just that Moses should not enter the promised land. However, Moses had the unique privilege to have is body laid in a grave prepared by God Himself. The funeral may be the most sparsely attended in history, but the Almighty officiated.
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