Deuteronomy Part Two: Deep Dive

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Deuteronomy, the closing book of the Torah, consists of three main sermons, addresses or speeches, depending on which bible scholar you ask. Roughly divided by Chapters 1:1-4:43, 4:44-26:19 and, 27:1-34:12, the first section of chapters cover; a preamble of the covenant made between the people of Israel and God. In addition to this Moses reminds the new generation of the rebelliousness of the Israelites in the wilderness, a reminder of what God has done for them already. A recap of God’s faithfulness. Moses is addressing his speech to the new generation, those fortunate enough to be allowed by God, into the Promise Land.

The second segment of chapters is an outline of the civil, social and ceremonial behaviours that God expects from Israel and a summary of the Decalogue. Within this section lies the Shema. Shema is the Hebrew word for “listen”, it begins the most important prayer in Judaism. Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. Jesus echoes this prayer in Mark 12:28-30, this is how influential and significant the prayer became, and reminds believers today, how knit together we should consider the listening and adherence of God’s commands, and the loving of God, above all else. The final speech is a prophetically charged warning, containing conditions for the blessing and cursing of the people of God, and a final review of God’s covenant faithfulness, exhortations and benefactions. Contrary to the implied addition to the Mosaic Law, aided by the mistranslation of the name of this book, Deuteronomy, meaning “second law”, a better explanation of the contents of this book is the amplification of the Law given at Mount Sinai.

In this Deep Dive, I want to draw your attention to the codes and laws administered and embraced by the surrounding nations of the time. This would include, Cuneiform laws, written as early as 2350 B.C.; the Code of Urukagina, 2380 B.C.; the Code of Ur-Nammu, 2050 B.C.; amongst others. In particular, the Code of Hammurabi 1754 B.C.,  from the Babylonian King, Hammurabi. Written in cuneiform script and the Akkadian language, and divided into three parts: A historical prologue, A lyrical epilogue summing up Hammurabi’s legal work and preparing its perpetuation in the future, these two frame a text describing almost three hundred laws and legal decisions governing daily life in the kingdom of Babylon.

Firstly, some comparisons and contrasts within the code of Code of Hammurabi and the Decalogue. About 300 years after Hammurabi, in 1440 B.C., Moses recorded the Law for the Israelites. Because the Mosaic Law contains some similarities to Hammurabi’s Code, some critics of the Bible believe that Moses copied from the Hammurabian Code. Lex Talionis, or the notion that someone who has injured another person can be similarly injured in retribution. However, above all, the main similarity between these two codes or Laws are their own emphasis on civil order. There is an expectation set, by someone, that is to be met, or unmet and the consequences shall be applied respectively.

Next, let’s take examine some stark contrasts, which one may make the case, sets the Law of Moses above the rest. Firstly, and strikingly, the Law of Moses is rooted in the Shema from Deuteronomy 6:4-5. The laws and principles are based on a righteous God, who wills that humanity, created in His image, would pursue holiness through obedience. The Law of Moses covers more than just civil law and legal codes. It speaks of human sin and a responsibility to God. Hammurabi’s Code does not. The Mosaic Law delivered justice, but it also dealt with spiritual laws in addition to both personal and national holiness. Alongside this, is the concept of sin being the root of downfall within a nation. Summised by the words in Leviticus 11:45, “Be holy, because I am holy”. Anything like this was utterly absent from the laws of te surrounding nations. I love what Evangel Classical School’s Johnathan Sarr writes in his blog on this topic, “The Code is the law as written by man. In The Code of Hammurabi, we are offered an example of a system of laws that represents man’s best effort at justice…moreover, it is coloured profoundly by Hammurabi’s self-promotion and self-interests.  The Code of Hammurabi contrasts with the Code of Moses, which comes from the true God, is inspired and reflects His just and unchanging nature.”

A modern-day examination the Mosaic Law, and in particular the “Second Law” found in Deuteronomy, may sometimes weel antiquated, stale and insignificant to a culture of the 21st Century; however when read in the correct light, with some historical and socio-cultural insight in one’s corner, it is easier to see the glory of God being revealed. Both to the Israelites, verging on the entrance of the Promise Land, reminded of the faithful God that had brought them there, it aids contemporary believers in knowing that God’s Law is wrapped up in love, and the way we can reciprocate that love is by obeying it. Through Jesus Christ, the great prophet and priest, we now have access to the Holy Spirit, the teacher, and counsellor, who can lead us into the things of God, and enable us to go from strength to strength in Him.  

Suggested Reading:

Highlights of Archaeology in Bible Lands, - Fred Wight.

Old Testament Parallels: Laws and Stories from the Ancient Near East, - Victor Harold Matthews, Don C. Benjamin



archaeology resources

deuteronomy part two

next book: proverbs

Following the TYB Schedule?  Next up is the book of Proverbs!

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