Owing to the comparatively loose nature of the connection between consecutive passages in the legislative section, it is difficult to present an adequate summary of the book of Deuteronomy. In the first section, i.-iv.40, Moses, after reviewing the recent history of the people, and showing how it reveals Jehovah's love for Israel, earnestly urges upon them the duty of keeping His laws, reminding them of His spirituality and absoluteness. Then follows the appointment, iv.41-43 -- here irrelevant (cf. xix.1-l3) -- of three cities of refuge east of the Jordan.

The second section, v.-xi., with its superscription, iv.44-49, is a hortatory introduction to the more specific injunctions of xii.-xxviii., and deals with the general principles by which Israel is to be governed. The special relation between Israel and Jehovah was established on the basis of the decalogue (Ex. xx.), and with this Moses begins, reminding the people of their promise to obey any further commands Jehovah might give (v.). But as the source of all true obedience is a right attitude, Israel's deepest duty is to love Jehovah, serving Him with reverence, and keeping His claims steadily before the children (vi.). To do this effectively, Israel must uncompromisingly repudiate all social and religious intercourse with the idolatrous peoples of the land, and Jehovah their God will stand by them in the struggle (vii). In the past the discipline had often indeed been stern and sore, but it had come from the hand of a father, and had been intended to teach the spiritual nature of true religion; worldliness and idolatry would assuredly be punished by defeat and destruction (viii.). And just as deadly as worldliness is the spirit of self-righteousness, a spirit as absurd as it is deadly; for Israel's past has been marked by an obstinacy so disgraceful that, but for the intercession of Moses, the people would already have been devoted to destruction,[1] ix.1-x.11. True religion is the loving service of the great God and of needy men, and it ought to be inspired by reverent fear. Obedience to the divine commands will bring life and blessing, disobedience will be punished by the curse and death, x.12-xi.
[Footnote 1: Ch, x.6-9 is an interpolation; vv.6, 7 a fragment of an itinerary relating the death of Aaron, and vv.8, 9 the separation of the tribe of Levi to priestly functions.]

This hortatory introduction is succeeded by the specific laws which form the main body of the book (xii.-xxvi., xxviii.). Roughly they may be classified as affecting (a) religious (xii.-xvi.), (b) civil (xvii.-xx.), and (c) social (xxi.-xxv.) life, the religious being made the basis of the other two.

(a) As the true worship is jeopardized by a multiplicity of sanctuaries, these sanctuaries are declared illegal, and their paraphernalia are to be destroyed; worship is to be confined henceforth to one sanctuary (xii.), and every idolatrous person and influence are to be exterminated (xiii.). The holiness of the people is to be maintained by their abstaining from the flesh of certain prohibited animals[1] xiv.1-21, and the sacred dues such as the tithes, xiv.22-29, and firstlings, xv.19-23, are regulated. Religion is to express itself in generous consideration for the poor and the slave, xv.1-18, as well as in the three annual pilgrimages to celebrate the passover, the feast of weeks, and the feast of booths, xvi.1-17.
[Footnote 1: This section is not altogether in the spirit of Deut. and is found with variations in Lev. xi. If it is not a late insertion in Deut. from Lev., probably both have borrowed it from an older code.]

(b) Besides the local courts there is to be a supreme central tribunal, xvi.18-20, xvii.8-13. No idolatrous symbols are to be used in the Jehovah worship; idolatry is to be punished with death, xvi.21-xvii.7. The character and duties of the king are defined, and his obligation to rule in accordance with the spirit of Israel's religion, xvii.14-20; the revenues and privileges of the Levitical priests are regulated and the high position and function of the prophets are defined in opposition to the representatives of superstition in heathen religion (xviii.). Following the laws affecting the officers of the theocracy are laws -- which finely temper justice with mercy -- concerning homicide, murder and false witness[1] (xix.). A similar combination of humanity and sternness is illustrated by the laws -- whether practicable or not -- regulating the usages of war, xx., with which may be taken xxi.10-14. [Footnote 1: Kindred in theme is xxi.1-9, dealing with the expiation of an uncertain murder.]

(c) The laws in xxi-xxv. are of a more miscellaneous nature and deal with various phases of domestic and social life -- such as the punishment of the unfilial son, the duty of neighbourliness, the protection of mother-birds, the duty of taking precautions in building, the rights of a husband, the punishment of adultery and seduction, the exclusion of certain classes from the privilege of worship, the cleanliness of the camp, the duty of humanity to a runaway slave, the prohibition of religious prostitution, the regulation of divorce, the duty of humanity to the stranger, the fatherless and the widow, and of kindness to animals, the duty of a surviving brother to marry his brother's childless widow, the prohibition of immodesty, etc.

By two simple ceremonies, one of thanksgiving, the other a confession of faith, Israel acknowledges her obligations to Jehovah[1] (xxvi.), and the great speech ends with a very impressive peroration in which blessings of many kinds are promised to obedience, while, with a much greater elaboration of detail, disaster is announced as the penalty of disobedience (xxviii.). In chs. xxix,, xxx., which are of a supplementary nature, Moses briefly reminds the people of the goodness of their God, and warns them of the disaster into which infidelity will plunge them, though -- so gracious is Jehovah -- penitence will be followed by restoration. In a powerful conclusion he sets before them life and death as the recompense of obedience and disobedience, and pleads with them to choose life.
[Footnote 1: Ch. xxvii., which, besides being in the 3rd person, interrupts the connection between xxvi. and xxviii., can hardly have formed part of the original book. It prescribes the inscription of the law on stones, its ratification by the people, and the curses to be uttered by the Levites.]

The speeches are over, and the narrative of the Pentateuch is resumed. In a few parting words, Moses encourages the people and his successor Joshua, who, in xxxi.14, 15, 23, receives his divine commission, and finally gives instructions for the reading of the law every seven years, xxxi.1-13. Verses 16-30 (except 23) constitute the preface to the fine poem known as the Song of Moses, xxxii.1-43, which celebrates, in bold and striking words, the loving faithfulness of Jehovah to His apostate and ungrateful people.[1] This poem, after a few verses in which Moses finally commends the law to Israel and himself receives the divine command to ascend Nebo and die, is followed by another known as the Blessing of Moses (xxxiii.). In this poem, which ought to be compared with Gen. xlix., the various tribes are separately characterized in language which is often simply a description[2] rather than a benediction, and the poem concludes with an enthusiastic expression of joy over Israel's incomparable God. The book ends with an account of the death of Moses (xxxiv.). [Footnote 1: The song must be much later than Moses, as it describes the effect, v.15ff., on Israel of the transition from the nomadic life of the desert, v.10, to the settled agricultural life of Canaan, and expressly regards the days of the exodus as long past, v.7. It is difficult to say whether the enemy from whom in vv.34-43, the singer hopes to be divinely delivered are the Assyrians or the Babylonians: on the whole, probably the latter. In that case, the poem would be exilic; v.36 too seems to presuppose the exile.]
[Footnote 2: These descriptions -- to say nothing of v.4 (Moses commended us a law) -- are conclusive proof that the poem was composed long after Moses' time. Reuben is dwindling in numbers, Simeon has already disappeared (as not yet in Gen. xlix). Judah is in at least temporary distress, and the banner tribe is Ephraim, whose glory and power are eloquently described, vv.13-17. Levi appears to be thoroughly organized and held in great respect, vv.8-ll. The poem must have been written at a time when northern Israel was enjoying high prosperity, probably during the reign of Jeroboam II and before the advent of Amos (770 B.C.?).]

Deuteronomy is one of the epoch-making books of the world. It not only profoundly affected much of the subsequent literature of the Hebrews, but it left a deep and abiding mark upon Hebrew religion, and through it upon Christianity.

The problem of its origin is as interesting as the romance which attached to its discovery in the reign of Josiah (621 B.C.). Generally speaking, the book claims to be the valedictory address of Moses to Israel. But even a superficial examination is enough to show that its present form, at any rate, was not due to Moses. The very first words of the book represent the speeches as being delivered "on the other side of the Jordan" -- an important point obscured by the erroneous translation of A.V. Now Moses was on the east side, and obviously the writer to whom the east side was the other side, must himself have been on the west side. The law providing for the battlement on the roof of a new house, xxii.8, shows that the book contemplates the later settled life of cities or villages, not the nomadic life of tents; and the very significant law concerning the boundary marks which had been set up by "those of the olden time," xix.14, is proof conclusive that the people had been settled for generations in the land.

The negative conclusion is that the book is not, in its present form, from the hand of Moses, but is a product, at least several generations later, of the settled life of the people. But it is at once asked, Do the opening words of the book not commit us expressly to a belief in the Mosaic authorship, in spite of the resultant difficulties? Is it not explicitly said that these words are his words? The answer to this question lies in the literary freedom claimed by all ancient historians. Thucydides, one of the most scrupulous historians who ever wrote, states, in an interesting passage, the principles on which he composed his speeches (i.22): "As to the various speeches made on the eve of the war or in its course, I have found it difficult to retain a memory of the precise words which I heard spoken; and so it was with those who brought me reports. But I have made the persons say what it seemed to me most opportune for them to say in view of each situation; at the same time I have adhered as closely as possible to the general sense of what was actually said." This statement represents the general practice of the ancient world; the conditions of historical veracity were satisfied if the speech represented the spirit of the speaker. And this, as we shall see, is eminently true of the book of Deuteronomy, which is an eloquent exposition and application of principles fundamental to the Mosaic religion. If, on the other hand, it be urged that the book contains deliberate assertions that it was written by Moses -- e.g., "when Moses had made an end of writing the words of this law in a book," xxxi.24, cf.9 -- the simple reply is that this very phrase, "all the words of this law," is elsewhere used of a body of law so small that it can be inscribed upon the memorial stones of the altar to be set up on Mount Ebal, xxvii.3.

We are free, then, to consider the date of Deuteronomy by an examination of the internal evidence. The latest possible date for the book, as a whole, is determined by the story of its discovery in 621 B.C. (2 Kings xxii., xxiii.). There can be no doubt that the book then discovered by the priest Hilkiah, and read by the chancellor before the king, was Deuteronomy. It is called the book of the covenant (2 Kings xxiii.2), but it clearly cannot have been the Pentateuch. For one thing, that was much too long; the book discovered was short enough to have been read twice in one day (2 Kings xxii.8, 10). And again, the swift and terrible impression made by it could not have been made by a book so heterogeneous in its contents and containing romantic narratives such as the patriarchal stories. Nor again can the discovered book have been Exodus xxi.-xxiii., though that is also called the book of the covenant (Exod. xxiv.7); for some of the most important points in the succeeding reformation are not touched in that book at all. It is clear from the narrative in 2 Kings xxii. ff. that the book must have been a law book; no other meets the facts of the case but Deuteronomy, and this meets them completely. Point for point, the details of the reformation are paralleled by injunctions in Deuteronomy -- notably the abolition of idolatry, the concentration of the worship at a single sanctuary (xii.), the abolition of witchcraft and star-worship, and the celebration of the passover. Some of these enactments are found in other parts of the Pentateuch, but Deuteronomy is the only code in which they are all combined.621 B.C. then is the latest possible date for the composition of Deuteronomy.

It is possible, however, to fix the date more precisely. The most remarkable element in the legislation is its repeated and emphatic demand for the centralization of worship in "the place which Jehovah your God shall choose out of all your tribes to put His name there," xii.5. Only by such a centralization could the Jehovah worship be controlled which, at the numerous shrines scattered over the country, was being stained and confused by the idolatrous practices which Israel had learned from the Canaanites. This demand is recognized as something new, xii.8. In the ninth and eighth centuries, when the prophetic narratives of Genesis were written,[1] these shrines, which were the scenes of an enthusiastic worship, are lovingly traced back to an origin in patriarchal times. As late as 750-735 B.C., Amos and Hosea, though they deplore the excesses which characterized those sanctuaries, and regard their worship as largely immoral, do not regard the sanctuaries themselves as actually illegal; consequently Deuteronomy must be later than 735. But the situation was even then so serious that it must soon have occurred to men of practical piety to devise plans of reform, and that the only real remedy lay in striking the evil at its roots, i.e. in abolishing the local shrines. The first important blow appears to have been struck by Hezekiah, who, possibly under the influence of Isaiah, is said to have removed the high places (2 Kings xviii.4), and the movement must have been greatly helped by the immunity which the temple of Jerusalem enjoyed during the invasion of Judah by Sennacherib in 701 B.C. But the singular thing is that no appeal was made in this reformation to a book, as was made in 621, and as it is natural to suppose would have been made, had such a book been in existence. Somewhere then between Hezekiah and Josiah we may suppose the book to have been composed.
[Footnote 1: See below]

The most probable supposition is that the reformation of Hezekiah gave the first impulse to the legislation which afterwards appeared as Deuteronomy. But in the terrible reign of his son Manasseh, the efforts of the reformers met with violent and bloody opposition. Judah was under the iron heel of Assyria, and, to the average mind, this would prove the superiority of the Assyrian gods. Judah and her king, Manasseh, would seek in their desperation to win the favour of the Oriental pantheon, and this no doubt explains the idolatry and worship of the host of heaven which flourished during his reign even within the temple itself. It was just such a crisis as this that would call out the fierce condemnation of the idolatrous high places which characterizes Deuteronomy (cf. xii.) and create the imperative demand for such a control of the worship as was only possible by centralizing it at Jerusalem. During this period, too, such a book may very well have been hidden away in the temple by some sorrowing heart that hoped for better days. It is improbable in itself (cf. xviii.6-8), and unjust to the narrative in 2 Kings xxii., xxiii., to suppose that the book was written by those who pretended to find it. It was really lost; had it been written during the earlier part of Josiah's reign, there was nothing to hinder its being published at once. In all probability, then, the book was in the main written and lost during the reign of Manasseh (circa 660 B.C.). It has been observed that in some sections the 2nd pers. sing, is used. in others the pl., and that the tone of the plural passages is more aggressive than that of the singular; the contrast, e.g., between xii.29-31 (thou) and xii.1-12 (you) is unmistakable. We might, then, limit the conclusion reached above by saying that the passages in which a milder tone prevails probably came from Hezekiah's reign, and the more aggressive sections from Manasseh's.

This date agrees with conclusions reached on other grounds concerning other parts of the Pentateuch. The prophetic narratives J and E were written in or before the eighth century B.C., the priestly code (P) is, broadly speaking, post-exilic.[1] Now if it can be proved that Deuteronomy knows JE and does not know P, the natural inference would be that it falls between the eighth and the sixth or fifth century. But this can easily be proved, for both in its narrative and legislative parts, Deuteronomy rests on JE. As an illustration of the former, cf. Deuteronomy xi.6, where only Dathan and Abiram are the rebels, not Korah as in P (cf. Num. xvi, 12, 25); as an illustration of the latter, cf. the law of slavery in Exodus xxi.2ff. with that in Deuteronomy xv.12-18, which clearly rests upon the older law, but deliberately gives a humaner turn to it, extending its privileges, e.g., to the female slave. [Footnote 1: See below.]

Again in many important respects the legislation of Deuteronomy either ignores or conflicts with that of P. It knows nothing, e.g., of the forty-eight Levitical cities (Num. xxxv.); it regards the Levite, in common with the fatherless and the widow, as to be found everywhere throughout the land, xviii.6. It knows nothing of the provision made by P for the maintenance of the Levite (Num. xviii.); it commends him to the charity of the worshippers, xiv.29. Above all it knows nothing of P's very sharp and important distinction between priests and Levites (Num. iii., iv.); any Levite is qualified to officiate as priest (cf. the remarkable phrase in xviii.1, "the priests the Levites"). Deuteronomy must, therefore, fall before P, as after JE.

A not unimportant question here arises: What precisely was the extent of the book found in 621 B.C.? Certainly the legislative section, xii.-xxvi., xxviii., possibly the preceding hortatory section, v.-xi., but in all probability not the introductory section, i. i-iv.40. These three sections are all approximately written in the same style, but i. i-iv.40 has more the appearance of an attempt to provide the legislation with a historical introduction summarizing the narrative of the journey from Horeb to the borders of the promised land. Certain passages, e.g. iv.27-31, seem to presuppose the exile, and thus suggest that the section is later than the book as a whole. The discrepancy between ii.14, which represents the generation of the exodus as having died in the wilderness, and v.3ff. hardly makes for identity of authorship; and the similarity of the superscriptions, i.1-5, and iv.44-49, looks as if the sections i.-iv. and v.-xi. were originally parallel. Whether v.-xi. was part of the book discovered is not so certain. Much of the finest religious teaching of Deuteronomy is to be found in this section; but, besides being disproportionately long for an introduction, it repeatedly demands obedience to the "statutes and judgments," which, however, are not actually announced till ch. xii.; it seems more like an addition prefixed by one who had the commandments in xii.-xxvi. before him. Ch. xxvii., which is narrative and interrupts the speech of Moses, xxvi, xxviii., besides in part anticipating xxviii.15ff., cannot have formed part of the original Deuteronomy. On the other hand, xxviii. was certainly included in it, as it must have been precisely the threats contained in this chapter that produced such consternation in Josiah when he heard the book read (2 Kings xxii.). The hortatory section that follows the legislation (xxix., xxx.), is also probably late, as the exile appears to be presupposed, xxix.28, xxx.1-3. On this supposition, too, the references to the legislation as "this book," xxix.20, 21, xxx.10, are most naturally explained.

The publication of the book of Deuteronomy was nothing less than a providence in the development of Hebrew religion. It was accompanied, of course, by incidental and perhaps inevitable evils. By its centralization of worship at the Jerusalem temple, it tended to rob life in other parts of the country of those religious interests and sanctions which had received their satisfaction from the local sanctuaries; and by its attempt to regulate by written statute the religious life of the people, it probably contributed indirectly to the decline of prophecy, and started Israel upon that fatal path by which she ultimately became "the people of the book." But on the other hand, the service rendered to religion by Deuteronomy was incalculable. The worship of Jehovah had been powerfully corrupted from two sources; on the one hand, from the early influence of the Canaanitish Baal worship, practically a nature-worship, which set morality at defiance, xxiii.18; and on the other, from her powerful Assyrian conquerors. Idolatry not only covered the whole land, it had penetrated the temple itself (2 Kings xxiii.6). The cause of true religion was at stake. There had been sporadic attempts at reform, but Deuteronomy, for the first time, struck at the root by rendering illegal the worship -- nominally a Jehovah, but practically a Baal worship -- which was practised at the local sanctuaries.

Again Deuteronomy rendered a great service to religion, by translating its large spirit into demands which could be apprehended of the common people. The book is splendidly practical, and formed a perhaps not unnecessary supplement to the teaching of the prophets. Society needs to have its ideals embodied in suggestions and commands, and this is done in Deuteronomy. The writers of the book legislate with the fervour of the prophet, so that it is not so much a collection of laws as "a catechism of religion and morals." Doubtless the prophets had done the deepest thing of all by insisting on the new heart and the return to Jehovah, but they had offered no programme of practical reform. Just such a programme is supplied by Deuteronomy, and yet it is saved from the externalism of being merely a religious programme by its tender and uniform insistence upon the duty of loving Jehovah with the whole heart.

The love of Jehovah to Israel -- love altogether undeserved, ix.5, and manifested throughout history in ways without number -- demands a human response. Israel must love Him with an uncompromising affection, for He is one and there is none else, and she must express that love for the God who is a spirit invisible, iv.12, by deeds of affection towards the creatures whom God has made, even to the beasts and the birds, xxv.4, but most of all to the needy -- the stranger, the Levite, the fatherless and the widow. Again and again these are commended by definite and practical suggestions to the generosity of the people, and this generosity is expected to express itself particularly on occasions of public worship. Religion is felt to be the basis of morality and of all social order, and therefore, even in the legislation proper (xii.-xxviii.), to say nothing of the fine hortatory introduction (v.-xi.), its claims and nature are presented first. The book abounds in profound and memorable statements touching the essence of religion. It answers the question, What doth thy God require of thee? x.12. It reminds the people that man lives not by bread alone, viii.3. It knows that wealth and success tend to beget indifference to religion, viii.13ff., and that chastisement, when it comes, is sent in fatherly love, viii.5; and it presses home upon the sluggish conscience the duty of kindness to the down-trodden and destitute, with a sweet and irresistible reasonableness -- "Love the sojourner, for ye were sojourners in the land of Egypt," x.19.

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