Deuteronomy 4

The Privileges of the Covenant

1Now, Israel, pay attention to the statutes and ordinances
These technical Hebrew terms (חֻקִּים [khuqqim] and מִשְׁפָּטִים [mishpatim]) occur repeatedly throughout the Book of Deuteronomy to describe the covenant stipulations to which Israel had been called to subscribe (see, in this chapter alone, vv. 1, 5, 6, 8). The word חֻקִּים derives from the verb חֹק (khoq, “to inscribe; to carve”) and מִשְׁפָּטִים (mishpatim) from שָׁפַט (shafat, “to judge”). They are virtually synonymous and are used interchangeably in Deuteronomy.
I am about to teach you, so that you might live and go on to enter and take possession of the land that the Lord, the God of your ancestors,
Heb “fathers” (also in vv. 31, 37).
is giving you.
2Do not add a thing to what I command you nor subtract from it, so that you may keep the commandments of the Lord your God that I am delivering to
Heb “commanding.”
3You have witnessed what the Lord did at Baal Peor,
The LXX and Syriac read “to Baal Peor,” that is, the god worshiped at that place; see note on the name “Beth Peor” in Deut 3:29.
how he
Heb “the Lord your God.” The pronoun has been used in the translation for stylistic reasons to avoid redundancy.
eradicated from your midst everyone who followed Baal Peor.
Or “followed the Baal of Peor” (so NAB, NIV, NRSV), referring to the pagan god Baal.
4But you who remained faithful to the Lord your God are still alive to this very day, every one of you. 5Look! I have taught you statutes and ordinances just as the Lord my God told me to do, so that you might carry them out in
Heb “in the midst of” (so ASV).
the land you are about to enter and possess.
6So be sure to do them, because this will testify of your wise understanding
Heb “it is wisdom and understanding.”
to the people who will learn of all these statutes and say, “Indeed, this great nation is a very wise
Heb “wise and understanding.”
7In fact, what other great nation has a god so near to them like the Lord our God whenever we call on him? 8And what other great nation has statutes and ordinances as just
Or “pure”; or “fair”; Heb “righteous.”
as this whole law
The Hebrew phrase הַתּוֹרָה הַזֹּאת (hattorah hazzot), in this context, refers specifically to the Book of Deuteronomy. That is, it is the collection of all the חֻקִּים (khuqqim, “statutes,” 4:1) and מִשְׁפָּטִים (mishpatim, “ordinances,” 4:1) to be included in the covenant text. In a full canonical sense, of course, it pertains to the entire Pentateuch or Torah.
that I am about to share with
Heb “place before.”
you today?

Reminder of the Horeb Covenant

9 Again, however, pay very careful attention,
Heb “watch yourself and watch your soul carefully.”
lest you forget the things you have seen and disregard them for the rest of your life; instead teach them to your children and grandchildren.
The text begins with “(the) day (in) which.” In the Hebrew text v. 10 is subordinate to v. 11, but for stylistic reasons the translation treats v. 10 as an independent clause, necessitating the omission of the subordinating temporal phrase at the beginning of the verse.
stood before the Lord your God at Horeb and he
Heb “the Lord.” See note on “he” in 4:3.
said to me, “Assemble the people before me so that I can tell them my commands.
Heb “my words.” See v. 13; in Hebrew the “ten commandments” are the “ten words.”
Then they will learn to revere me all the days they live in the land, and they will instruct their children.”
11You approached and stood at the foot of the mountain, a mountain ablaze to the sky above it
Heb “a mountain burning with fire as far as the heart of the heavens.” The Hebrew term שָׁמַיִם (shamayim) may be translated “heaven(s)” or “sky” depending on the context.
and yet dark with a thick cloud.
Heb “darkness, cloud, and heavy cloud.”
12Then the Lord spoke to you from the middle of the fire; you heard speech but you could not see anything – only a voice was heard.
The words “was heard” are supplied in the translation to avoid the impression that the voice was seen.
13And he revealed to you the covenant
This is the first occurrence of the word בְּרִית (berit, “covenant”) in the Book of Deuteronomy but it appears commonly hereafter (4:23, 31; 5:2, 3; 7:9, 12; 8:18; 9:9, 10, 11, 15; 10:2, 4, 5, 8; 17:2; 29:1, 9, 12, 14, 15, 18, 21, 25; 31:9, 16, 20, 25, 26; 33:9). Etymologically, it derives from the notion of linking or yoking together. See M. Weinfeld, TDOT 2:255.
he has commanded you to keep, the ten commandments,
Heb “the ten words.”
writing them on two stone tablets.
14Moreover, at that same time the Lord commanded me to teach you statutes and ordinances for you to keep in the land which you are about to enter and possess.
Heb “to which you are crossing over to possess it.”

The Nature of Israel’s God

15 Be very careful,
Heb “give great care to your souls.”
then, because you saw no form at the time the Lord spoke to you at Horeb from the middle of the fire.
16I say this
The words “I say this” are supplied in the translation for stylistic reasons. In the Hebrew text v. 16 is subordinated to “Be careful” in v. 15, but this makes for an unduly long sentence in English.
so you will not corrupt yourselves by making an image in the form of any kind of figure. This includes the likeness of a human male or female,
17any kind of land animal, any bird that flies in the sky, 18anything that crawls
Heb “creeping thing.”
on the ground, or any fish in the deep waters of the earth.
Heb “under the earth.”
19When you look up
Heb “lest you lift up your eyes.” In the Hebrew text vv. 16–19 are subordinated to “Be careful” in v. 15, but this makes for an unduly long sentence in English.
to the sky
Or “heavens.” The Hebrew term שָׁמַיִם (shamayim) may be translated “heaven(s)” or “sky” depending on the context.
and see the sun, moon, and stars – the whole heavenly creation
Heb “all the host of heaven.”
– you must not be seduced to worship and serve them,
In the Hebrew text the verbal sequence in v. 19 is “lest you look up…and see…and be seduced…and worship them…and serve them.” However, the first two actions are not prohibited in and of themselves. The prohibition pertains to the final three actions. The first two verbs describe actions that are logically subordinate to the following actions and can be treated as temporal or circumstantial: “lest, looking up…and seeing…, you are seduced.” See Joüon 2:635 #168.h.
for the Lord your God has assigned
Or “allotted.”
them to all the people
Or “nations.”
of the world.
Heb “under all the heaven.”
The OT views the heavenly host as God’s council, which surrounds his royal throne ready to do his bidding (see 1 Kgs 22:19). God has given this group, sometimes called the “sons of God” (cf. Job 1:6; 38:7; Ps 89:6), jurisdiction over the nations. See Deut 32:8 (LXX). Some also see this assembly as the addressee in Ps 82. While God delegated his council to rule over the nations, he established a theocratic government over Israel and ruled directly over his chosen people via the Mosaic covenant. See v. 20, as well as Deut 32:9.
20You, however, the Lord has selected and brought from Egypt, that iron-smelting furnace,
A כּוּר (kur) was not a source of heat but a crucible (“iron-smelting furnace”) in which precious metals were melted down and their impurities burned away (see I. Cornelius, NIDOTTE 2:618–19); cf. NAB “that iron foundry, Egypt.” The term is a metaphor for intense heat. Here it refers to the oppression and suffering Israel endured in Egypt. Since a crucible was used to burn away impurities, it is possible that the metaphor views Egypt as a place of refinement to bring Israel to a place of submission to divine sovereignty.
to be his special people
Heb “to be his people of inheritance.” The Lord compares his people to valued property inherited from one’s ancestors and passed on to one’s descendants.
as you are today.
21But the Lord became angry with me because of you and vowed that I would never cross the Jordan nor enter the good land that he
Heb “the Lord your God.” See note on “he” in 4:3.
is about to give you.
The Hebrew text includes “(as) an inheritance,” or “(as) a possession.”
22So I must die here in this land; I will not cross the Jordan. But you are going over and will possess that
Heb “this.” The translation uses “that” to avoid confusion; earlier in the verse Moses refers to Transjordan as “this land.”
good land.
23Be on guard so that you do not forget the covenant of the Lord your God that he has made with you, and that you do not make an image of any kind, just as he
Heb “the Lord your God.” See note on “he” in 4:3.
has forbidden
Heb “commanded.”
24For the Lord your God is a consuming fire; he is a jealous God.
The juxtaposition of the Hebrew terms אֵשׁ (’esh, “fire”) and קַנָּא (qanna’, “jealous”) is interesting in light of Deut 6:15 where the Lord is seen as a jealous God whose anger bursts into a destructive fire. For God to be “jealous” means that his holiness and uniqueness cannot tolerate pretended or imaginary rivals. It is not petty envy but response to an act of insubordination that must be severely judged (see H. Peels, NIDOTTE 3:937–40).

Threat and Blessing following Covenant Disobedience

25 After you have produced children and grandchildren and have been in the land a long time,
Heb “have grown old in the land,” i.e., been there for a long time.
if you become corrupt and make an image of any kind
Heb “a form of anything.” Cf. NAB, NASB, NRSV, TEV “an idol.”
and do other evil things before the Lord your God that enrage him,
The infinitive construct is understood here as indicating the result, not the intention, of their actions.
26I invoke heaven and earth as witnesses against you
I invoke heaven and earth as witnesses against you. This stock formula introduces what is known form-critically as a רִיב (riv) or controversy pattern. It is commonly used in the ancient Near Eastern world in legal contexts and in the OT as a forensic or judicial device to draw attention to Israel’s violation of the Lord’s covenant with them (see Deut 30:19; Isa 1:2; 3:13; Jer 2:9). Since court proceedings required the testimony of witnesses, the Lord here summons heaven and earth (that is, all creation) to testify to his faithfulness, Israel’s disobedience, and the threat of judgment.
today that you will surely and swiftly be removed
Or “be destroyed”; KJV “utterly perish”; NLT “will quickly disappear”; CEV “you won’t have long to live.”
from the very land you are about to cross the Jordan to possess. You will not last long there because you will surely be
Or “be completely” (so NCV, TEV). It is not certain here if the infinitive absolute indicates the certainty of the following action (cf. NIV) or its degree.
27Then the Lord will scatter you among the peoples and there will be very few of you
Heb “you will be left men (i.e., few) of number.”
among the nations where the Lord will drive you.
28There you will worship gods made by human hands – wood and stone that can neither see, hear, eat, nor smell. 29But if you seek the Lord your God from there, you will find him, if, indeed, you seek him with all your heart and soul.
Or “mind and being.” See Deut 6:5.
30In your distress when all these things happen to you in the latter days,
The phrase is not used here in a technical sense for the eschaton, but rather refers to a future time when Israel will be punished for its sin and experience exile. See Deut 31:29.
if you return to the Lord your God and obey him
Heb “hear his voice.” The expression is an idiom meaning “obey,” occurring in Deut 8:20; 9:23; 13:18; 21:18, 20; 26:14, 17; 27:10; 28:1–2, 15, 45, 62; 30:2, 8, 10, 20.
31(for he
Heb “the Lord your God.” See note on “he” in 4:3.
is a merciful God), he will not let you down
Heb “he will not drop you,” i.e., “will not abandon you” (cf. NAB, NIV, NRSV, NLT).
or destroy you, for he cannot
Or “will not.” The translation understands the imperfect verbal form to have an added nuance of capability here.
forget the covenant with your ancestors that he confirmed by oath to them.

The Uniqueness of Israel’s God

32 Indeed, ask about the distant past, starting from the day God created humankind
The Hebrew term אָדָם (’adam) may refer either to Adam or, more likely, to “man” in the sense of the human race (“mankind,” “humankind”). The idea here seems more universal in scope than reference to Adam alone would suggest.
on the earth, and ask
The verb is not present in the Hebrew text but has been supplied in the translation for clarification. The challenge has both temporal and geographical dimensions. The people are challenged to (1) inquire about the entire scope of past history and (2) conduct their investigation on a worldwide scale.
from one end of heaven to the other, whether there has ever been such a great thing as this, or even a rumor of it.
33Have a people ever heard the voice of God speaking from the middle of fire, as you yourselves have, and lived to tell about it? 34Or has God
The translation assumes the reference is to Israel’s God in which case the point is this: God’s intervention in Israel’s experience is unique in the sense that he has never intervened in such power for any other people on earth. The focus is on the uniqueness of Israel’s experience. Some understand the divine name here in a generic sense, “a god,” or “any god.” In this case God’s incomparability is the focus (cf. v. 35, where this theme is expressed).
ever before tried to deliver
Heb “tried to go to take for himself.”
a nation from the middle of another nation, accompanied by judgments,
Heb “by testings.” The reference here is the judgments upon Pharaoh in the form of plagues. See Deut 7:19 (cf. v. 18) and 29:3 (cf. v. 2).
signs, wonders, war, strength, power,
Heb “by strong hand and by outstretched arm.”
and other very terrifying things like the Lord your God did for you in Egypt before your very eyes?
35You have been taught that the Lord alone is God – there is no other besides him. 36From heaven he spoke to you in order to teach you, and on earth he showed you his great fire from which you also heard his words.
Heb “and his words you heard from the midst of the fire.”
37Moreover, because he loved
The concept of love here is not primarily that of emotional affection but of commitment or devotion. This verse suggests that God chose Israel to be his special people because he loved the patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac, Jacob) and had promised to bless their descendants. See as well Deut 7:7–9.
your ancestors, he chose their
The LXX, Smr, Syriac, Targum, and Vulgate read a third person masculine plural suffix for the MT’s 3rd person masculine singular, “his descendants.” Cf. Deut 10:15. Quite likely the MT should be emended in this instance.
descendants who followed them and personally brought you out of Egypt with his great power
38to dispossess nations greater and stronger than you and brought you here this day to give you their land as your property.
Heb “(as) an inheritance,” that is, landed property that one can pass on to one’s descendants.
39Today realize and carefully consider that the Lord is God in heaven above and on earth below – there is no other! 40Keep his statutes and commandments that I am setting forth
Heb “commanding” (so NRSV).
today so that it may go well with you and your descendants and that you may enjoy longevity in the land that the Lord your God is about to give you as a permanent possession.

The Narrative Concerning Cities of Refuge

41 Then Moses selected three cities in the Transjordan, toward the east. 42Anyone who accidentally killed someone
Heb “the slayer who slew his neighbor without knowledge.”
without hating him at the time of the accident
Heb “yesterday and a third (day).” The point is that there was no animosity between the two parties at the time of the accident and therefore no motive for the killing.
could flee to one of those cities and be safe.
43These cities are Bezer, in the desert plateau, for the Reubenites; Ramoth in Gilead for the Gadites; and Golan in Bashan for the Manassehites.

The Setting and Introduction of the Covenant

44 This is the law that Moses set before the Israelites.
Heb “the sons of Israel” (likewise in the following verse).
45These are the stipulations, statutes, and ordinances that Moses spoke to the Israelites after he had brought them out of Egypt, 46in the Transjordan, in the valley opposite Beth Peor, in the land of King Sihon of the Amorites, who lived in Heshbon. (It is he whom Moses and the Israelites attacked after they came out of Egypt. 47They possessed his land and that of King Og of Bashan – both of whom were Amorite kings in the Transjordan, to the east. 48Their territory extended
The words “their territory extended” are supplied in the translation for stylistic reasons. In the Hebrew text vv. 47–49 are all one sentence, but for the sake of English style and readability the translation divides the text into two sentences.
from Aroer at the edge of the Arnon valley as far as Mount Siyon
Mount Siyon (the Hebrew name is שִׂיאֹן [sion], not to be confused with Zion [צִיּוֹן, tsiyyon]) is another name for Mount Hermon, also called Sirion and Senir (cf. Deut 3:9).
– that is, Hermon –
49including all the Arabah of the Transjordan in the east to the sea of the Arabah,
The sea of the Arabah refers to the Dead Sea, also known as the Salt Sea in OT times (cf. Deut 3:17).
beneath the watershed
The meaning of the Hebrew term אַשְׁדֹּת (’ashdot) is unclear. It is usually translated either “slopes” (ASV, NAB, NIV, NRSV, NLT) or “watershed” (NEB).
of Pisgah.)

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