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The New Oxford Annotated Bible New Revised Standard Study Bible that provides essential scholarship and guidance for Bible readers.

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Commentary on Deuteronomy

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Commentary spanning earlier chapters

1.1–4.43 : The first discourse of Moses

has two subsections: a historical retrospective ( 1.6–3.29 ) and a sermon on the importance of obeying Torah ( 4.1–40 ). An editorial headnote ( 1.1–5 ) and appendix ( 4.41–43 ) frame the discourse.

1.1–5 : Editorial headnote.

1 :

Beyond the Jordan, the land east of the Jordan river (Transjordan), where the Israelites have stopped, awaiting entry to the land. The reference places the editor west of the Jordan, in Canaan. According to the narrative line, however, the Israelites have not yet reached the promised land, and Moses never does. From this and similar anachronisms, medieval Jewish commentators already recognized that not all of the Pentateuch could be attributed to Moses (see also 2.12; 3.11n.; 20.15; 34.5; Gen 12.6 ). The plain (lit. “the Arabah”), the rift valley that includes the Jordan River and stretches south from the Dead Sea through Eilat and the Red Sea into Africa. The places mentioned cannot be identified with certainty.

2 :

Eleven days implies a scathing indictment of the nation. As a result of their rebellion in the desert (Num 13–14 ), it actually took them thirty‐eight years, eight months, and twenty days to reach this point after they first broke camp (Num 10.11 ). Horeb (Ex 3.1; 17.6; 33.6 ) is Deuteronomy's term for the mount of revelation. “(Mount) Sinai,” in contrast, is the more standard term used by the Yahwistic and Priestly writers (see Ex 19.11; 34.29 ); it occurs in Deuteronomy only at 33.1 , where it refers more generally to a mountainous region in the south.

4 :

Num 21.21–35 .

5 :

Expound seems intentionally ambiguous about whether Moses here pro‐claims new religious teachings or simply explicates material already proclaimed. This law, better, “this Torah” or “this teaching” ( 4.8,44; 27.3,8,26; 28.58,61; 29.20,28; 30.10; 31.9,11–12; 32.46 ). The word designates not only the combination of ritual, civil, family, and ethical law found in chs 12–26 , but also the religious instruction of chs 5–11 . For later editors, as here, the same word seems to refer to the entire book of Deuteronomy.

6.1–11.32 : The requirement of loyalty to God.

A sermonic preamble to the laws of chs 12–26 .

6.1–3 :

Introduction, stressing the rewards of obedience to the covenant.

1 :

The commandment … occupy, the Hebrew is nearly identical to 5.31 . The precise repetition of terminology legitimates the entire second discourse—both the commandment (chs 6–11 ) and the statutes and ordinances (the legal corpus of chs 12–26; see 12.1 )—as originating in direct divine revelation from God on Horeb ( 5.31 ). The Book of the Covenant (Ex 21–23 ), with its “ordinances” (Ex 21.1 ), and the “statutes and ordinances” of Deuteronomic law ( 6.1; 12.1 ), now in implicit tension, are independently presented as God's words to Moses on the mountain immediately following the Decalogue (Ex 20.21; 24.3,12 ).

2 :

Fear, better, “revere” (see 4.10n. ).

4–25 :

A sermon on the first commandment of the Decalogue, incorporating direct allusions to it: vv. 4 and 14 refer to 5.7; vv. 12,21,23 refer to 5.6; v. 15 (“jealous God”) refers to 5.9; vv. 5,17 refer to 5.10 .

4–9 :

In Jewish tradition these verses begin the important prayer known as the Shema (“Hear!”).

4–5 :

This “first” commandment (Mk 12.29–30 ) restates the first Decalogue commandment in positive form. Hear, O Israel ( 5.1; 9.1; 20.3; 27.9 ), an imperative modeled on a wisdom teacher's call for attention (Prov 1.8; 4.1,10; 5.7; 7.24; 23.19 ). The Lord … alone, as text note a indicates, the Hebrew is difficult; the translation selected makes most sense historically. The focus is not on God's nature in the abstract but on the quality of Israel's relationship to God. The proclamation, like 5.7 , does not deny the existence of other gods but is concerned with the exclusivity of Israel's loyalty to God (as in ch 13 ). This vision is universalized in later prophecy (Zech 14.9 ).

5 :

Love, see 5.10n. The paradox of commanding a feeling (as in Lev 19.17–18 ) is resolved with the recognition that covenantal “love” is not private emotion but loyalty of action toward both deity and neighbor (see 5.1–33n. ).

7 :

At home … away, using paired opposites as a merism ( 28.3–6n. ) to indicate totality: One should always talk about the commandments.

8 :

Bind them, based on the wisdom teacher's symbolically urging his students to focus on the lesson (Prov 3.3; 6.21; 7.3 ). This law, literally interpreted, provides the basis for the Jewish convention of binding phylacteries, containing an abstract of biblical law, upon the arm and forehead.

9 :

Doorposts, important transitional spaces in which religious‐legal ceremonies were performed and where divine images might be stored (see Ex 12.7,21–23; 21.6; Isa 57.8 ). Perhaps partially reacting against a formerly magical back‐ground, this law devotes that space to Torah. The law provides the basis for the Jewish convention of placing a small box containing this and related texts upon the upper portion of the right doorpost (Heb “mezuzah”).

10–11 :

The list, land … houses … cisterns … olive groves (cf. Josh 24.13; Neh 9.24–25 ), defines the elements of an established civilization, which Israel is about to both inherit and become.

12 :

The threat of forgetting and the risk of apostasy are repeatedly stressed ( 4.9–14n.; 8.11–20; 32.18; cf. 5.29; Hos 2.5–13 ).

16 :

Test … Massah, for the incident and the Hebrew pun, see Ex 17.2–7; see also Mt 4.7 .

20 :

The Jewish Passover text (“Haggadah”) includes this and similar didactic questions (Ex 12.21–27; 13.1–10,11–16 ).

22 :

See 4.34n.

4.1–40 : Exhortation to obey the Torah.

While preceding the Decalogue ( 5.6–21 ), this unit provides a later theological reflection upon it, focusing on the second commandment and broadening its significance. Admonitions to obedience (vv. 1,40 ) frame the unit, which systematically contrasts obedience (vv. 5–24 )/disobedience (vv. 25–31 ); remembering/forgetting (vv. 9,23 ); the LORD/other gods (vv. 7,34 ); Israel's revealed Torah/the laws of other nations (vv. 8,28 ); and God/idols (vv. 12–20 ). The correct worship of God is aniconic: Images (whether of God or of natural phenomena) should play no role in Israelite religion. This becomes so strong a theme that idolatry by itself is asserted to be the cause of the nation's exile from its land (vv. 25–31 ). The explicit reference to exile suggests that the unit is a late theological explanation for the Babylonian exile. The focus on idolatry as the basis for the divine punishment diverges significantly from the perspective elsewhere that views failure to heed “all his [God's] commandments and decrees” as the cause of exile ( 28.15; cf. 28.1,45,58–59 ).

1–4 :

The incident at Peor (Num 25.1–9 ) is recalled to emphasize the importance of fidelity to God and the dire consequences of worshiping other gods.

2 :

This admonition not to alter the Torah, whether by addition or subtraction (cf. 12.32 ), parallels similar admonitions in wisdom literature (Prov 30.6; Eccl 3.14; 12.12–13; Sir 42.21; cf. Rev 22.18–19 ) and in ancient Near Eastern legal traditions.

5–8 :

The author here challenges the prevailing Near Eastern idea that wisdom was a royal prerogative. Whereas, for example, the ancient Babylonian Laws of Hammurabi (ca. 1755 BCE) praised the “just decisions” of its “wise” king (cols 47.1; 4.7 ), here it is the nation Israel who will be internationally renowned as “wise” for its “just” laws (vv. 6,8). See also 29.29n.; 30.11–14n.

7–8 :

Israel is distinguished both by its God and by its law: The two ideas are interlocked. God is near, both in having entered history on behalf of Israel and in revealing his will as Torah ( 30.14 ). The laws are just (better, “righteous”), not only in their morality but also as embodying the will of God.

9–14 :

The revelation at Sinai/Horeb (Ex 19–20; Deut 5 ) is recalled in order to instruct this generation, who did not experience it.

9 :

The paired injunctions not to forget the powerful experience of God's actions and to educate your children, so that the past becomes “present” also to them, represent a prominent aim of Deuteronomy: to overcome the distance of the past and maintain it as a source of identity (vv. 23,25; 6.2,7,20–25; 8.11; 9.7; 31.13; 32.18 ). Your eyes have seen, as well as the following “how you once stood” (v. 10 ), are highly paradoxical assertions. Neither is literally true: The actual generation of the Exodus had died off ( 2.14–15n. ). This paradoxical structure of thought, whereby Moses addresses those who had not witnessed the events as if they had, while insisting that they inculcate the events to posterity, is central to Deuteronomy's theology of history ( 5.3–4,23; 11.7; 29.16–17 ).

10 :

My words, the Decalogue (“ten commandments”; v. 13; 5.22; 9.10; 10.2,4 ). Elsewhere, however, the phrase refers comprehensively to the legal corpus of chs 12–26 (12.28). Fear, respectful reverence, not intimidation (see Job 28.28; Prov 1.7 ).

11 :

The manifestation of a god (“theophany”) was often associated with disturbances of nature in Ugaritic (Canaanite) literature. This motif was taken over by Israelite writers and applied to God (Ex 19.16–19; 20.21; Ps 18.7–15; 29.3–9 ).

12 :

Form (also vv. 15–16,23,25 ), directly alluding to the second commandment of the Decalogue ( 5.8 = Ex 20.4 ).

13 :

A subtle reinterpretation of Sinai: The specification of that event as one where God proclaimed ten commandments occurs only here, at 10.4, and at Ex 34.28 . There is no special number of or name for the commandments (lit. “words”) in Ex 19–20 or Deut 5 . The rationale for two stone tablets (as at 5.22 ) derives from ancient Near Eastern treaties, whereby both sovereign and vassal would retain a separate complete copy of the treaty.

15–31 :

Reinterpretation of the second commandment. The Decalogue concedes the existence of other gods, while prohibiting Israel from worshiping them ( 5.7; cf. 32.8; Ex 15.11; Ps 82.1 ). It then separately prohibits the making of images ( 5.8 ). The distinction between those two commandments is dissolved here. The existence of other gods is no longer conceivable; the sole focus is the prohibition against idols. Here and elsewhere (see v. 19n. ) key ideas in Deuteronomy are reinterpreted from a later theological perspective; such passages therefore represent a later textual layer that dates to the exilic period.

16b–19a :

This catalogue follows the order of creation in Gen 1 in reverse order, consistent with ancient scribal practice when quoting an earlier text.

18 :

Water under the earth, seas, rivers, and lakes. Ancient cosmology conceived the earth to be a disk floating on such waters (cf. Gen 1.9 ).

19 :

Sun … host of heaven may reflect images derived from the Neo‐Assyrian pantheon brought into the Jerusalem Temple by Manasseh but removed by Josiah (2 Kings 21.5; 23.4–5; Jer 8.2 ). The idea of idols or of celestial phenomena literally being worshiped sharply distorts ancient Near Eastern religion, which regarded such phenomena as visible manifestations or emblems of a deity, not as themselves divine. This polemic, with the idea that God allotted the celestial phenomena to other nations while reserving Israel as “his very own possession” (v. 20; cf. 7.6n. ), reinterprets the earlier idea that God, as head of the pantheon, assigned other nations to the supervision of lesser gods but retained Israel as “his allotted share” (lit. “his very own possession”; 32.8–9 ). The author de‐animates those gods, reducing them to lifeless celestial objects.

21 :

See 1.37n.

26 :

Heaven … witness, similarly, 30.19; 31.28; 32.1; Isa 1.2; 44.23; Ps 69.34; 96.11 .

27–28 :

These verses allude to the exile of conquered populations, a policy used effectively by the Assyrians and the Babylonians.

32–40 :

Continuation of the double focus on the uniqueness of God's revelation to Israel and of the covenant he made with the nation. Several passages fit best in the historical context of the Babylonian exile (see v. 35n. ).

33 :

Alludes to the normal expectation that no human can look directly upon God and survive (Gen 16.13; 32.30; Ex 3.6; 19.21; 33.20 ).

34 :

Attempted, better, “ventured” (as at 28.56 ). Trials … wonders refers to the signs performed by Moses and Aaron in Egypt, including the plagues, to persuade Pharaoh to release Israel (Ex 7.3; 8.23; 10.1–2; 11.9–10 ).

35 :

There is no other, this affirmation of full monotheism (contrast v. 7; 5.7 ) corresponds to the thought of the exilic Second Isaiah (Isa 43.10–13; 44.6–8; 45.6–7,22 ).

4.41–43 : An appendix.

The cities of refuge to be established in Transjordan. Since the law concerned with these cities (ch 19 ) does not refer to this passage, these verses are most likely an editorial appendix composed after the completion of ch 19 (cf. Num 35.9–15; Josh 20.8). Similar disconnected appendices often appear in the Bible at the conclusion of longer literary units (e.g., Lev 27 ).

4.44–28.68 : The second discourse of Moses.

4.44–49 : Introduction.

Cf. 1.1–5 .

49 :

Sea of the Arabah, the Dead Sea.

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