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Textual Description of Deuteronomy

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In narrative terms, Deuteronomy comes just as the Israelites, encamped on the plains of Moab, finally stand poised to enter the Promised Land. This entry into Canaan would provide the long-awaited climax of the story that had begun with the promises to the ancestors in Genesis, and whose fulfillment had been delayed by the enslavement in Egypt and the wandering in the wilderness.

Deuteronomy is set in the time of Moses, and Moses as Deuteronomy's speaker, arrests the narrative action in order to deliver the final words to the Israelites before he dies and they enter the Promised Land. Deuteronomy 12:2-28 presents a series of addresses by Moses to the Israelites before they enter the Promised Land. In verses 4-26 he reviews the nation's history, expounds upon their laws, and instructs them about the importance of loyalty to God. Verse 27 is the covenant of obedience; a ceremony in which Israel takes an oath of obedience. Moses then exhorts Israel to remain faithful to it and swear upon an oath to uphold this combination of law and instruction as a covenant upon the plains of Moab. Thus Deuteronomy displays law as instruction and Moses as the instructor.

Through Deuteronomy, God described what He expects of Israel in terms of offerings, the food they should consume, the purification of the land they were promised, and their obedience toward Himself. Deuteronomy 12:2-3 states "You must demolish completely all the places where the nation whom you are about to dispossess served their gods, on the mountain heights, on the hills, and under every leafy tree. Break down their altars, smash their pillars, burn their sacred poles with fire, and hew down the idols of their gods, and thus blot out their name from their places."

Before Israel crossed over the Jordan, during the wilderness wanderings, each Israelite pretty much conducted their own worship as they pleased. But God was not really pleased with this; worship was not a matter left up to whatever pleased the individual. Real worship is concerned with what pleases God. Instead to uphold God's divinity and respect, Israel is commanded to bring all their offerings to the altar of God, and all their holy things to the place which he should choose, (Deuteronomy 26-28). They are forbidden, in general, to do as they now did in the wilderness (Deuteronomy 12:8-11), and as the Canaanites had done (Deuteronomy 12:29-32), and, in particular, to eat the hallowed things at their own houses (Deuteronomy 12:13,17,18), or to forsake the instituted ministry, Deuteronomy 12:19. They are permitted to eat flesh as common food at their own houses, provided they do not eat the blood, Deuteronomy 12:15-16, and again, Deuteronomy 12:20-26. They had to worship God at His prescribed place, and among other worshiper of God. The place of worship was to be a place of atonement, confession, giving, and cleansing.

Deuteronomy 12:14-18 describes what God expected in terms of offerings from Israel. In the ancient world, almost every time an animal was butchered it was sacrificed to a god. Here, the LORD made it clear that not every slaughtered animal was considered a sacrifice to Him. This shows that animals which were offered in sacrifice, even if the offerer was to eat a portion, could only be killed at God's appointed place of worship. Since the blood was the picture of life in any animal or man, God would not allow Israel to eat meat that had not been properly bled. Instead, it was to be given to God by pouring it out on the earth.

Part of the continuing relevance of Deuteronomy is that it does not permit itself to be read literally or passively. Through Moses' narration, the text challenges its readers actively to confront the problem of the relation between revelation and interpretation. By examining Deuteronomy through Moses' eyes, readers may relate more closely to the events that take place, as if though they were there listening to Moses speak the word of God.

Using the historical context, John Van Seters describes the authorship of Deuteronomy as a process of "creative imitation," whereby an ancient author used the work of an earlier author as a model, while at the same time leaving clues for the informed reader about his creative borrowing.

John Van Seters proposes a process of supplementation in which subsequent groups modify earlier compositions to include their points-of-view and to change the focus of the narratives. John comments that authors of Deuteronomy did not directly attach their name to their composition or write in their own voice; instead, they attributed their composition to a prestigious figure from the past. By employing Moses as their spokesperson, they established a link with tradition at precisely the time when tradition, for the sake of survival, had to be transformed.

At many points, the authors of Deuteronomy reinterpret earlier narratives and laws. These mutually exclusive positions preserve an ongoing ancient debate about fundamental religious assumptions. As a result they preserve different schools of thought in their full integrity. The modern reader of Deuteronomy must become, like the authors of Deuteronomy, an interpreter - no so much paying attention to the historical context, but the narrative and what message it's trying to convey. Only then does the text become meaningful, interpretational, and open to our imagination; allowing us to apply our own emotions and experiences to the text written so long ago.

Through reading historical text, I have come to understand that the name "Israel" means either "one who fights victoriously with God" or "a prevailing prince with God." Israel comes from the new name God gave Abraham's grandson Jacob. (Genesis 32:38) It is at this point that the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are often referred to as the "Children of Israel." The selection of Israel as a special nation was part of God's plan from the beginning of time. What is interesting is that God's choice of Israel as His "chosen people" did not lie in any special size, nature or attraction. Actually, the nation of Israel was the least in number among all the nations (Deuteronomy 7:6-8). God chose these people because of His love for them and His unconditional covenant with Abraham. God intended to use Israel as His means to love and bless everyone. It was God's plan from the beginning to bring forth the Messiah through Israel to act as the Savior for the entire world (Isaiah 49:6). Israel is special because God used the nation as a channel of His blessings to all mankind. When God made His unconditional promise to Abraham that He would make his descendants a great nation, God also promised to bless all people through that nation (Genesis 12:1-3). God's miracles for Israel, such as their dramatic



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