Good morning! As Moses’ second sermon to the people continues today (Deuteronomy 7-10), he gives instruction for how the Hebrew people are to live in their new land in light of who God is, and what God has done already in salvation history (for the matriarchs/patriarchs, slaves in Egypt, and wanderers in the wilderness). Throughout, the writer emphasizes the God’s benevolence (at least to the “chosen people”) and the need for loyal obedience among the Hebrews.
Recall that Deuteronomy was almost certainly written hundreds of years after the time of Canaan-conquering in which it is set. The later context of “ideological warfare” with other religious options leads to the no-holds barred treatment against other cultures and especially their idols. Dread at the possibility of Jews following other gods helps explain the “total annihilation” against other nations at the beginning of chapter 7. “Moses” is keen to emphasize the difference and specialness of the Israelites, who are a people chosen by God for no deserving reason, but simply because God deemed it so in the time of Abraham and God is faithful to those earlier promises. The fact that God chooses a weak, small tribe to protect and raise up is in keeping with the priorities of God we saw all the way back in Genesis—regularly choosing to work through younger and smaller siblings. Loyalty and obedience to the ways of God will lead to prosperity and blessing in the new nation of Israel. The God of deliverance from Egypt will be the wind in the sails of the invaders, leading them to steady success (though not immediate, since this would leave the land wild).
Chapter 8 cautions against complacency in the prosperous times that follow Canaan’s conquest, then chapter 9 recounts some of the ways that Hebrews failed to follow in the wilderness. God has provided throughout the wilderness time, and God will provide again. Where there was suffering in the wilderness, it was caused by Jewish disobedience and was “to humble you and to test you, and in the end to do you good.” Therefore, chapter 8 concludes, don’t take God for granted, but learn the lessons of wilderness and be grateful for God’s provision. Furthermore, don’t claim that the defeat of enemies is by one’s own doing, but treat it instead as God’s judgment on the wickedness of other nations.
Chapter 9 focuses mainly on the golden calf incident, which makes sense if this was written mainly to oppose later Hebrew idolatry. Deuteronomy’s version largely resonates with that which we’ve read already, placing special emphasis on God’s fierce anger, Moses’ intervention (laying prostrate before God for 40 days/nights is a new detail), and the terrible consequences for idolatry. The chapter also references other places of rebellion in the wilderness, reminding the people of their unfaithfulness with many supporting examples. Chapters 8-9 seek to emphasize humility and gratitude for God’s gracious adoption of the Jewish people, rather than self-righteous presumption of their having somehow earned divine favor.
Chapter 10 includes a “Cliff Notes” summary of the covenant between God and the people in 10:12-22. The people are called to be faithful followers, giving God their hearts and demonstrating loyalty through obedience to the law. The Deuteronomist beautifully emphasizes here the justice, mercy and compassion of God, “who executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and who loves the strangers, providing them with food and clothing.” The command to love the stranger is connected explicitly to Egypt, in the first of several such passages in Deuteronomy. Here we see the fingerprints of later Hebrew prophets, and the tradition that Jesus himself stands in when he calls for loving God, neighbor and self. This strand of faith reaches forward throughout history even to the present moment, influencing how Christians and Jews reflect on immigration and refugee crises in our world today. Happy reading!
Please join discussion of this passage at the Daily Bible Facebook group, or comment below. The passage for tomorrow is Deuteronomy 11-14. Thanks for reading!