Day 76 (March 17): Judge people fairly, choosing a king, gifts for priests and Levites, stay clear of detestable acts of conquered nations, future prophets, cities of refuge, practice justice, regulations for battle, unsolved murder cases

Welcome to BibleBum where we are exploring the entire Bible in one year to better learn how to follow God’s instructions and discover the purpose for our lives.  The BibleBum blog uses The One Year Chronological Bible, the New Living Translation version.  At the end of each day’s reading, Rob, a cultural history aficionado and seminary graduate, answers questions from Leigh An, the blogger host, about the daily scripture.  To start from the beginning, click on “Index” and select Day 1.  Take the challenge.  You won’t regret it.

Deuteronomy 16:18-21:9

Questions & Observations

Q. (Deuteronomy 16:21-22): This seems kind of random.  I read that Asherah was a Canaanite goddess?  Did God not like these pillars because they resembled some goddess?

A. You assessed this female deity correctly.  Asherah was worshipped as a fertility goddess, and archeological records indicate that she was worshipped at sites of tall trees or carved poles (we don’t know exactly what the Hebrew word for “pole” refers to).  Some scholars think they may have been carved figures like totem poles in Native American worship, but we do not know how large they were.  The pillars were the sites of worship of Asherah, not necessarily a physical resemblance, though in some instances the image of Asherah may have been carved into the pillar, pole, or tree.

One of the most interesting archeological discoveries from this period are a number of engravings, which name “Yahweh and his Asherah,” as well as figurines of her image, with the implication that Asherah was the wife of Yahweh after the Israelites settled in the Promised Land.  This would indicate that the people FAIL to not worship this other goddess, despite God’s strict command not to.  We shall surely revisit this issue.

Q. (17:5): I notice, for the first time, that the text refers to “the gates of town.”  Were most towns walled and gated?  It really sounds like hostile times all around.

A.  In this era, a city is defined by its walls and gates.  It was the easiest way to ensure protection against bandits and wild animals, both of which were huge problems outside of camps and cities.  The mindset that these people would have held was that if it didn’t have a wall, it wasn’t a city.

Q. (17:8-13): Would you say that our current justice system has roots in these passages?  Is this called Moses’ Law?

A. Like many other nations, there is some limited influence on the system of justice that comes from the system created here, but I would hesitate to say that such laws “come” from this text.  They have been adopted from concepts laid out here, however.  We might call it a foundation for future judicial systems.

Q. (18:9-14): Fortune telling today seems almost like a circus act.  It’s hard for me to believe that anyone can “channel the dead.”  I am naïve to any devilish practices.  But, I would suppose, that God would still consider these practices detestable today, just like He was with the Israelites?

A. As I think we have discussed (I don’t recall where), consorting with the dead or fortune telling is always about trying to gain an advantage over future events, and when you do that, you have moved beyond faith in God to provide for your needs.  There will be various references to speaking to the dead in future readings (of all the people, a king of Israel will do it, yikes!).  So to me, it would appear that the Bible says it IS possible to consort with the dead, but that we should not.  Let’s revisit this when our unfortunate king actually does so in 1 Samuel.

Q. (18:15-22): Rob, you want to tell us the future prophet God is referring to, or is it a surprise?

A. The language used is plural, indicating that Moses is talking about a series of prophets, which will provide guidance for the people in each generation.  Having said that, the language is also indicative of a final capital “P” Prophet, which is why many Christian scholars believe that it has Messianic expectation, which would of course point to Jesus as THE Prophet.  Jesus refers to himself as a prophet in Luke 13, and prophet is one of the three anointed offices in the OT, along with priest and king.  Jesus, in some form or another, fulfills each of these roles, but we’ll get to that at some point.

O. (19:1-13): This passage shows how much God strives to keep the purity in Israel.  If someone is killed and it’s a true accident, no more blood should be shed by an avenger.  He reserves some cities as refuges for those innocent offenders.  If they are not, it is better to purge them from Israel.  I like that word, “purge.”  That word gave me this clear visualization of Israel’s purity for the first time.

Q. (20:5-7): I don’t understand this passage.  If you haven’t eaten from your vineyard, you may die?  And the other scenarios.

A. Nope.  You’ve got it backwards.  The officer is saying that under each of the scenarios, the person is exempt from military service.  It appears that these were scenarios (getting married, buying new property, etc.) that were considered more valuable to their society than fighting for the nation, and therefore you could get out of service.  So it’s not “if you haven’t eaten from your vineyard, you might die,” it’s “if you die in combat, someone else gets your vineyard.”

Q. (20:15-18): Can we assume that the inhabitants of the towns God instructs the Israelites to destroy worship idols and act immoral?

A. Yes, I think that is a fair interpretation of the purpose of the task: they were ordered to entirely destroy the nations that occupied the Holy Land, not merely to drive them out and let them settle elsewhere.  We will see what happens when they fail at this task in Joshua.

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