Day 79 (March 20): Moses reviews Covenant, God shows mercy for those who stray but return, life choices, Joshua is Israel’s new leader, Book of Instruction, Israel’s disobedience predicted

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 29:2-31:29

Questions & Observations

Q. (Deuteronomy 29:29): This is an interesting verse.  Has God said this before that there are secrets that He has not revealed?

A. I don’t think it has come up to this point, but honestly, there will always be things about the infinite God that are incomprehensible to the finite “us.”  I don’t really like the way that this verse in translated in this version.  The NIV makes Moses’ point more carefully.  The focus is not on God and His secrets, i.e. things He has not revealed, but rather on the Law as a blessing to the people and future generations of their children.

O. (30:1-10): Yeah!  God has mercy on the Israelites.  I thought that once they sinned, they are doomed.  God is merciful.

O. (30:9-10): This passage made me smile.  It’s nice to know we can delight God.  So many times, it feels like we can either make Him happy or make Him mad.  But, the thought that we can bring joy to His heart brings joy to my heart, much like when I look at my girls and think how lucky I am that God gave them to me.

Q. (30:17): I know these commandments are for the Israelites — I never really differentiated that rules were for them and not necessarily for us today until Rob explained that — nevertheless, we can still learn from them, right?  Here Moses is telling the Israelites that if they worship other gods, they will be destroyed.  There are other false gods to worship, but I think that once you become a Christian, you are not likely to be lured by other cults, religions, etc., but we have idolatry of today: TV, work, temptations, food, alcohol, sports, anything that we give so much importance to that we forget about God.  Would you say that applying this passage to today in this way is accurate?

A. I think it is.  You have begun to see the way that we should think about idolatry today: as anything that competes with God for our attention and time.  It is anything that we trust in besides God.  Having said that, I think that we as a society are moving toward a more open view of mixed religious theology.  We usually call it pluralism, and say things like, “all roads lead to God.”  Unfortunately, this goes exactly against what Moses is teaching the people here.  We must be very careful about allowing other religious ideas to infiltrate our faith.  Intermixing their faith in God with other faiths will get the Israelites in a lot of trouble.

O. (31:1-8): Just reading this gets my heart pounding.  I imagine the Israelites thinking about how big and numerous these inhabitants were and here God said He is going to conquer them.  And now, since they did not actually see the miracles in Egypt, there may be many who doubt these commands.  But, Moses keeps reminding them of the deliverance and miracles and I’m sure their parents did — the loyal, wise ones anyway.

Q. (31:12): What is in the Book of Instruction?  The curses and the blessings?  Was this book placed in the Ark of the Covenant also?  Do any of these exist in museums today?  That’s another question.  Can you give us a nutshell version of where all of the scrolls that form the Bible were found?

A. The Book of Instruction is the Law.  It is basically some form of the previous four books we have been reading: Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy.  I suspect the versions of the books that we have been reading were edited together to combine the instructions of the Law with the journey in the wilderness that we have been reading about.  There will be various references to copies of the Law throughout the OT, but it appears a copy of the Law did end up in the Ark.  It is very unlikely, however, that it was a copy that would have been used.  It is likely that other copies made by the priests were used for everyday study.

Regarding your other question, you’ve touched upon a complex subject: the transmission of the OT.  There’s a few things to note.  First, the oldest known copy of the complete OT in Hebrew is called the Masoretic Text (usually MT), which is a medieval copy of the OT from the Middle Ages.  We have portions of the OT that are found throughout the Middle East, but there’s a catch.  In the late BC era, the OT was translated into ancient Greek, to create a document known as the Septuagint (from the Greek word for seventy from the number of translators who worked on it).  Most of the ancient copies of the OT are Septuagints: Greek, not Hebrew copies.  Modern Jews reject the use of the Septuagint (probably because it’s the version that many early Christians, including Paul, used), and feel that only the Hebrew is valid for translation.  So while we have many fragments of the OT in Hebrew, and several copies in Greek, the oldest complete text comes from the Middle Ages.

I hear the questions rising now: isn’t that a long time?  Yes it is, but one of the coolest discoveries of modern Biblical archeology was the discovery of what is known as the Dead Sea Scrolls in the 1940s and 50s- found near the Dead Sea in the West Bank.  This was a collection of nearly a thousand clay pots that contained scrolls of various sizes.  These scrolls contained various portions of nearly every book of the OT (the exception was Esther, for reasons that don’t concern us here).  The ultimate find, however, was a full-length copy of the Book of Isaiah on a 12-foot scroll.  The coolest part of the discovery: the text of Isaiah matched more than 99% of the Masoretic text, despite being more than a thousand years older!  This, I think, tells us the great care with which Jews have copied their sacred text (and the way early Christians transmitted theirs), and gives me great confidence that the copies of the Bible that we have today are accurate representations of what the original author and editors desired to write about God.

O. (31:16-18) I doubt this is news that sits well with Moses, especially on the day of his death!

Q. (31:29): So much for peace in the valley of milk and honey.  Why does the disobedience have to continue?  From reading the Bible thus far, it seems that God does have a hand in what disasters strike.  Is this just more of God testing to see who deserves His blessings?

A. The people continue to rebel against God.  And just because God can “see it coming” as it were, does not make the people any less responsible for their actions, which is part of what God is telling Moses here.  The purpose of the curses, the droughts, the conquest by other tribes, these are all tools used by God to call His people back to Him.  None of us deserve the blessings God provides for us.  Like the Israelites, our call is to be faithful to God, and He will handle the rest.

Tune in tomorrow for the Song God gave Moses to share with the Israelites.

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