Deuteronomy 30-31

Good morning! In today’s two chapters (Deuteronomy 30-31) we read the powerful final exhortation from Moses to choose wisely and follow the covenant law, then the foreboding warning of God to Moses that the Hebrews will forsake the covenant as they enter in the land of Canaan. While human beings are fickle, God is faithful to provide future leaders with rituals that may yet woo God’s people back after times of great trial.

The British comedian Eddie Izzard has a memorable skit where he describes a monarch giving people the choice between two options: tea and cake, or death. To nobody’s surprise but the monarch, everyone chooses the tea and cake! Deuteronomy 30 has Moses offering such a simple choice to the Israelite people: life or death. This chapter presumes utterly free will in human beings, so that they have the power to choose the right way and so much bear full responsibility if they choose wrongly. Fulfilling the covenant is entirely possible for everyday people in this understanding. Later theologians will see biblical justification for “original sin”, “inward-curvedness” or “total depravity” of humans from our birth (which limit the ability to make truly free choices), but that theology is far from this text. Yet Deuteronomy does realize that it’s not as simple as “tea and cake, or death”. Somehow, inexplicably, people will choose to disobey the covenant. For that reason, this chapter also holds out hope that once the curses have befallen the people, they will then at last remember the covenant and return to faithfulness. The terrible curses we read yesterday are not the last word—God throws out lifelines, and restoration will still be possible.

Deuteronomy 31 gives us at least three overlapping stories which seem to have been spliced together rather poorly. The strands include 1) Moses writing down the covenant law and calling for it to be remembered, 2) God saying farewell to Moses while also foretelling the future infidelity of Israel, and 3) Joshua being commissioned as the leader for Israel’s invasion of Canaan. Moses’ command that the law be read aloud every seven years is an attempt to keep the tradition and covenant alive among future generations. God’s “prophesying” the people’s future failure leads to a divine commission for Moses to write a song (which we’ll read tomorrow), suggesting music’s power to carry memory when words alone are in danger of passing away. Joshua hears God say “I will be with you,” which is the same promise that crops up over and over throughout the Bible, including to Moses at the burning bush, and to the matriarchs and patriarchs of Genesis. The promise “I will be with you” does not mean that terrible things are not possible, but it’s also an enduring reassurance to God’s people for all generations. Happy reading!

Read Deuteronomy 30-31.

Please join discussion of this passage at the Daily Bible Facebook group, or comment below. The passage for tomorrow is Deuteronomy 32-34. Thanks for reading!

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