Moses’ Deuteronomic Code / The “Second Law”:
This section of Deuteronomy (chapters 12-26) is part of what is called “The Deuteronomic Code.” This is part of what scholars call “The Second Law.” It is an expansion and application of the original Law, the Ten Commandments. This expanded Decalogue of the Deuteronomic Code actually follows the layout of the Ten Commandments in order from chapters 12-26. So, the Second Law is actually an expansion and application of the original Law of the Ten Commandments. Deuteronomy 12-26 (Second Law) parallels Deuteronomy 5 (Original Law). The Code is specifically concerned with the centralization and consolidation of worship. Sacrifice and worship is to be centralized to one place, the Tabernacle with the Ark of the Covenant, regulated by the Law, and under the watchful eye of the Levitical priesthood. As the Israelites are conquering and settling the land of Canaan, much of Deuteronomy is also concerned with conquest and settlement issues. The Mosaic Second Law Covenant is fashioned after a typical Hittite covenant document from the late second millennium B.C. period in the Near East.
This new king-vassal type of covenant is with Moses, and not directly to God Himself. In Deuteronomy 29 we read, “These are the words of the covenant which the Lord commanded Moses to make with the sons of Israel in the land of Moab, besides the covenant which He had made with them at Horeb.” (Deut. 29:1) God commands Moses to make the Covenant with Israel. Similarly, in Deuteronomy 4, Moses says these are the statutes and ordinances “which I teach you” and “which I command you.” (Deut. 4) The Deuteronomic Code or Second Law is more a Mosaic Covenant with the Israelites, and not a direct Covenant with God now. Moses is acting on behalf of God as His lawgiver, teacher, and commander. Yet, certain Mosaic laws like the “herem” (total warfare on the Canaanites) did not represent the highest will of God for His people, but was an accommodation by Moses to account for the sinfulness of the Israelites. There is some distance between certain Mosaic Laws and the ideal divine will found elsewhere in Scripture.
Seven-Year Sabbath Laws and Social Justice for the Poor:
God declared that every seventh year is a Sabbath Year, meaning the Israelites were obligated to forgive debts and offer restitution of money and property. They were also prohibited from usury and giving loans with interest. This Jubilee forgiveness of debts every seven years is a foundational social teaching for Judaism and Christianity regarding social justice and love for the poor. “At the end of every seven years you shall grant a release. And this is the manner of the release: every creditor shall release what he has lent to his neighbor; he shall not exact it of his neighbor, his brother, because the Lord’s release has been proclaimed. Of a foreigner you may exact it; but whatever of yours is with your brother your hand shall release. But there will be no poor among you.” (Deut. 15:1-4) God commands that Israel be charitable to the poor. In the New Dispensation of the Gospel this would be akin to corporeal works of mercy, or caring for the poor. “For the poor will never cease out of the land; therefore I command you, You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor, in the land.” (Deut. 15:11) Hebrew slaves will likewise be set free from bondage or indentured servitude on the seventh year.
A Review of the Feasts and Festivals – Passover and Unleavened Bread:
God instructs the Israelites that they must appear before God three times a year, first at the Tabernacle, but later, at the Temple, to offer sacrifice and worship Him. “Three times a year all your males shall appear before the Lord your God at the place which he will choose: at the feast of unleavened bread, at the feast of weeks, and at the feast of booths. They shall not appear before the Lord empty-handed; every man shall give as he is able, according to the blessing of the Lord your God which he has given you.” (Deut. 16:16-17)
God tells the Israelites to remember the Passover Feast and the Feast of Unleavened Bread. “And you shall offer the passover sacrifice to the Lord your God, from the flock or the herd, at the place which the Lord will choose, to make his name dwell there. You shall eat no leavened bread with it; seven days you shall eat it with unleavened bread, the bread of affliction—for you came out of the land of Egypt in hurried flight..” (Deut. 16:2-3)
The Festival of Weeks:
“You shall count seven weeks; begin to count the seven weeks from the time you first put the sickle to the standing grain. Then you shall keep the feast of weeks to the Lord your God with the tribute of a freewill offering from your hand..” (Deut. 16:9-10)
The Feast of Booths:
“You shall keep the feast of booths seven days, when you make your ingathering from your threshing floor and your wine press; you shall rejoice in your feast..” (Deut. 16:13-14)
Forbidden Forms of Worship:
Any person who offers pagan worship or sacrifice is to be stoned by the community. There shall not be any worship of false gods or idolatry, or the worship of the sun, moon or stars, as was common among the pagans. Moses instructions are blunt and harsh to purge them from your midst: “If there is found among you, within any of your towns which the Lord your God gives you, a man or woman who does what is evil in the sight of the Lord your God, in transgressing his covenant, and has gone and served other gods and worshiped them, or the sun or the moon or any of the host of heaven, which I have forbidden, and it is told you and you hear of it; then you shall inquire diligently, and if it is true and certain that such an abominable thing has been done in Israel, then you shall bring forth to your gates that man or woman who has done this evil thing, and you shall stone that man or woman to death with stones.” (Deut. 17:2-5) One of Moses’ main concern here is to protect the fledgling nation in their worship of the one true God and to avoid them falling back into the pagan worship of demons.
No Occult or Pagan Practices:
“When you come into the land which the Lord your God gives you, you shall not learn to follow the abominable practices of those nations. There shall not be found among you any one who burns his son or his daughter as an offering, any one who practices divination, a soothsayer, or an augur, or a sorcerer, or a charmer, or a medium, or a wizard, or a necromancer. For whoever does these things is an abomination to the Lord; and because of these abominable practices the Lord your God is driving them out before you.” (Deut. 18:9-12)
Raise Up a Prophet Like Me / The Messiah will be the New Moses:
This is one of the great Messianic prophecies of Moses pointing towards Jesus, as the New Moses, who the Lord will raise up to Israel. A Messiah will come who is the “New Moses.” This new Moses, of course, is Jesus. “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brethren—him you shall heed— just as you desired of the Lord your God at Horeb on the day of the assembly, when you said, ‘Let me not hear again the voice of the Lord my God, or see this great fire any more, lest I die.’ And the Lord said to me, ‘They have rightly said all that they have spoken. I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brethren; and I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him. And whoever will not give heed to my words which he shall speak in my name, I myself will require it of him.” (Deut. 18:15-19)
Jesus as the New Moses:
Indeed, there are many striking parallels to Jesus and Moses, too many to list here. But, Jesus is the new Moses leading His people on a new Exodus to the Promised Land, with new manna from Heaven, and bringing them into a New Covenant, not written on stones but upon their hearts. Jesus Himself alludes to this verse in a debate with the Jews: “Do not think that I shall accuse you to the Father; it is Moses who accuses you, on whom you set your hope. If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote of me. But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe my words?” (John 5:45-47) St. Peter also quotes these lines (Deut. 18:18) from Deuteronomy, saying: “Moses said, ‘The Lord God will raise up for you a prophet from your brethren as he raised me up. You shall listen to him in whatever he tells you. And it shall be that every soul that does not listen to that prophet shall be destroyed from the people.’” (Acts 19:22-23)
Seeing God “Face-to-Face:
One of the main requirements of the prophet like Moses, ie, the Messiah, is that he shall speak to God “face-to-face” just as Moses did. Jesus fulfills this perfectly as He alone speaks to the Father, as He retreats alone into deserted places to pray. No other prophet speaks to God “face-to-face” as Jesus did, exceeding Moses’ interaction, as he was not allowed to behold the face of God directly. “No one has ever seen God; the only Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he has made him known.” (John 1:18) And, “Not that any one has seen the Father except him who is from God; he has seen the Father.” (John 6:46)
Three Cities of Refuge:
These are three cities Israel is to set aside as refuges for people who unintentionally kill someone else. These are cities they can flee to in order to avoid revenge from another person. “You shall set apart three cities for you in the land which the Lord your God gives you to possess. . This is the provision for the manslayer, who by fleeing there may save his life. If any one kills his neighbor unintentionally without having been at enmity with him in time past.” (Deut. 19:2, 4) What is the purpose of this? To prevent innocent blood from being shed on the land, and thus, polluting it: “lest innocent blood be shed in your land which the Lord your God gives you for an inheritance, and so the guilt of bloodshed be upon you.” (Deut. 19:10)
Two or Three Witnesses Necessary:
For every accusation or court case, there must be at least two to three witnesses to convict someone. “A single witness shall not prevail against a man for any crime or for any wrong in connection with any offense that he has committed; only on the evidence of two witnesses, or of three witnesses, shall a charge be sustained.” (Deut. 19:15) And, if one is found guilty, then they are to act with pure justice with the person, meaning giving him exactly what he or she deserves: “then you shall do to him as he had meant to do to his brother; so you shall purge the evil from the midst of you. And the rest shall hear, and fear, and shall never again commit any such evil among you. Your eye shall not pity; it shall be life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot.” (Deut. 19:19-21)
Herem: Utterly Destroy Paganism in Canaan:
“But in the cities of these peoples that the Lord your God gives you for an inheritance, you shall save alive nothing that breathes, but you shall utterly destroy them, the Hittites and the Amorites, the Canaanites and the Perizzites, the Hivites and the Jebusites, as the Lord your God has commanded; that they may not teach you to do according to all their abominable practices which they have done in the service of their gods, and so to sin against the Lord your God.” (Deut. 20:16-18) The point here is Moses’ injunction of the “herem” (total warfare) command to utterly destroy the pagans of Canaan is to prevent them from influencing the Israelites with paganism and corrupt their monotheistic worship of Yahweh alone. Earlier in Exodus and Numbers, God never says to totally wipeout the native Canaanites in the land. It is only after the mass apostasy of the Israelites on the plains of Moab and the worship of Baal, that Moses calls for the “ban” or the herem (total warfare) against the indigenous populations. This is to protect the Israelites from being tempted and slipping back into paganism and idolatry, as the Israelites have repeatedly done. Yet, certain Mosaic laws like this do not represent the ideal of God’s highest will for His people.
Moses’ Laws for the Israelites:
Many of the laws that come out from Moses in Deuteronomy is exactly that, laws from Moses, that Moses permitted because the Israelites were “a stubborn people.” In much of the Book of Deuteronomy God is not speaking in the first-person, in fact, for much of the book it is Moses speaking in the first-person to the Israelites. God does not speak first-hand in Deuteronomy until near the end of the book (Deut. 31:16-23) Moses, in fact, took responsibility for promulgating these laws “which I command” and “I have taught you.” (Deut. 4) And so, we find many instances where Moses permits the Israelites to do certain things and certain actions, which God Himself had not permitted them to do. As Jesus’ answer to the Pharisees when they asked him if it is permissible for a husband to divorce his wife, Jesus responds “from the beginning it was not so.” But rather, Moses permitted your ancestors to do it because of the hardness of their hearts.” “They said to him, “Why then did Moses command one to give a certificate of divorce, and to put her away?” He said to them, “For your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so.” (Mt. 19:7-8) And so, Jesus is saying some of the things that Moses permitted was not the original intention of God. Rather, it was a temporary “fix” allowed by Moses at a particular instance in time, to assuage the rebelliousness of the Israelites. This must be taken in this context when considering some of the more morally questionable actions that Moses permitted the Israelites to do. This is a hermeneutical key that Jesus gives for unlocking the mystery of Deuteronomy. These are amendments Moses made for the Israelites at that moment in time.
For example, Moses addresses the Israelites about when they win in battle and they take the women as spoils of victory. If they find “a beautiful woman, and you have desire for her and would take her for yourself as wife,” then you must basically shave her clean and let her mourn her father and mother for thirty days. At that point, “you may go in to her, and be her husband, and she shall be your wife.” (Deut. 21:13) Many would find this morally objectionable, if not downright repugnant. Or, like the next line: “If a man has two wives..” Again, this is an area where the Israelites were still shaking off the pagan culture, in this case – polygamy – from where they grew out of, but have not yet fully accomplished it. As Jesus said, Moses permitted divorce because of the hardness of their hearts, but “from the beginning it was not so.” In short, the Israelites were a work-in-progress. Moses made accommodations for the Israelites, but his accommodations, like this, often fell short of the more ideal, divine will of God.
Crucifixion, Hung on a Tree, and Jesus:
This is another line from Deuteronomy foreshadowing and prophesying about Jesus and His crucifixion on the Cross, or “a tree.” It reads: “and you hang him on a tree, his body shall not remain all night upon the tree, but you shall bury him the same day, for a hanged man is accursed by God; you shall not defile your land which the Lord your God gives you for an inheritance.” (Deut. 21:22-23) In fact, Jesus was crucified on the “tree” of a cross, where He died and was buried that same day. Even in death, Jesus fulfilled the Law.
“A woman shall not wear anything that pertains to a man, nor shall a man put on a woman’s garment; for whoever does these things is an abomination to the Lord your God.” (Deut. 22:5)
Adulterers are to be Stoned:
“If a man is found lying with the wife of another man, both of them shall die, the man who lay with the woman, and the woman; so you shall purge the evil from Israel.” (Deut. 22:22)
Rapist Punished with Death:
“But if in the open country a man meets a young woman who is betrothed, and the man seizes her and lies with her, then only the man who lay with her shall die. But to the young woman you shall do nothing.” (Deut. 22:25-26)
“A man shall not take his father’s wife, nor shall he uncover her who is his father’s.” (Deut. 22:30) This language of “uncovering his father’s nakedness” hearkens back to Ham uncovering the nakedness of his father, or in other words, he raped his mother. This is why the line of Ham was cursed, through the product of the incestuous union, who of course was Canaan.
Those Restricted from the Assembly of the Lord:
-“He whose testicles are crushed or whose male member is cut off shall not enter the assembly of the Lord.”
-“No Ammonite or Moabite shall enter the assembly of the Lord.” (Deut. 23:1,3)
-“There shall be no cult prostitute of the daughters of Israel, neither shall there be a cult prostitute of the sons of Israel. You shall not bring the hire of a harlot, or the wages of a dog, into the house of the Lord your God in payment for any vow; for both of these are an abomination to the Lord your God.” (Deut. 23:17-18)
The Israelites about to Passover into the Promised Land:
“Now Moses and the elders of Israel commanded the people, saying, “Keep all the commandment which I command you this day. And on the day you pass over the Jordan to the land which the Lord your God gives you, you shall set up large stones, and plaster them with plaster; and you shall write upon them all the words of this law, when you pass over to enter the land which the Lord your God gives you, a land flowing with milk and honey, as the Lord, the God of your fathers, has promised you.” (Deut. 27:1-3) Moses is still exhorting the Israelites to obey all the Commandments that the Lord has given them. And he commands the Israelites to build an altar to the Lord God when they cross over into the Promised Land. “You shall build an altar to the Lord your God of unhewnstones; and you shall offer burnt offerings on it to the Lord your God; and you shall sacrifice peace offerings, and shall eat there; and you shall rejoice before the Lord your God. And you shall write upon the stones all the words of this law very plainly.” (Deut. 27:6-8) The Israelites are to honor God for the great gift He has given them with the land flowing with milk and honey. Moses then offers twelve curses for the anyone who breaks twelve different aspects of the Law.
However, if the Israelites obey the Commandments of the Lord they will be exceedingly blessed among the nations. “And all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you, if you obey the voice of the Lord your God.” (Deut. 28:2)
“But if you will not obey the voice of the Lord your God or be careful to do all his commandments and his statutes which I command you this day, then all these curses shall come upon you and overtake you.” (Deut. 28:15) And more curses: “A nation which you have not known shall eat up the fruit of your ground and of all your labors; and you shall be only oppressed and crushed continually; so that you shall be driven mad by the sight which your eyes shall see.” (Deut. 28:33-34) “All these curses shall come upon you and pursue you and overtake you, till you are destroyed, because you did not obey the voice of the Lord your God, to keep his commandments and his statutes which he commanded you. They shall be upon you as a sign and a wonder, and upon your descendants for ever.” (Deut. 28:45-46) “And the Lord will scatter you among all peoples, from one end of the earth to the other; and there you shall serve other gods, of wood and stone, which neither you nor your fathers have known.” (Deut. 28:54)
A New Mosaic Covenant at Moab:
“These are the words of the covenant which the Lord commanded Moses to make with the people of Israel in the land of Moab, besides the covenant which he had made with them at Horeb.” (Deut. 29:1) This is a good reminder that this is a different Covenant at Moab, than the original Covenant at Mt. Sinai. The Sinai Covenant was a familial one, but the Moab covenant was a vassal, suzerainty treaty. God is binding them in a king-servant type of treaty to bind their rebelliousness. It is almost as if God has stepped-aside and commanded Moses to make the Covenant with the Israelites. God even says, “.. the Lord commanded Moses to make with the people Israel.” God has essentially deputized Moses to stand in for Him and make the Covenant with the people. Thus, many of the laws and statutes were promulgated by Moses, as God’s deputy, and not directly from God.
Now, even if Israel should falter and fail, and break the Covenant (which obviously we know they did repeatedly, and were conquered and dispersed by the Babylonians and the Persians, and the Romans), God will still remember His Covenant with Israel and gather them back together from the nations. “If your outcasts are in the uttermost parts of heaven, from there the Lord your God will gather you, and from there he will fetch you; and the Lord your God will bring you into the land which your fathers possessed, that you may possess it; and he will make you more prosperous and numerous than your fathers. And the Lord your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live.” (Deut. 30:4-6) And, God promises His word is neither far away or difficult. But rather, “But the word is very near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can do it.” (Deut. 30:14) “See, I have set before you this day life and good, death and evil.” (v.15)
Joshua Becomes Moses’ Successor:
“And he said to them, “I am a hundred and twenty years old this day; I am no longer able to go out and come in. The Lord has said to me, ‘You shall not go over this Jordan.’ The Lord your God himself will go over before you; he will destroy these nations before you, so that you shall dispossess them; and Joshua will go over at your head, as the Lord has spoken.” (Deut. 31:2-3) “Then Moses summoned Joshua, and said to him in the sight of all Israel, “Be strong and of good courage; for you shall go with this people into the land which the Lord has sworn to their fathers to give them; and you shall put them in possession of it. It is the Lord who goes before you; he will be with you, he will not fail you or forsake you; do not fear or be dismayed.” (Deut. 31:7-8) “And the Lord said to Moses, “Behold, the days approach when you must die; call Joshua, and present yourselves in the tent of meeting, that I may commission him.” (Deut. 31:14) “And the Lord commissioned Joshua the son of Nun and said, “Be strong and of good courage; for you shall bring the children of Israel into the land which I swore to give them: I will be with you.” (Deut. 31:23)
Moses’ Book of the Law on “the Side” of the Ark:
“When Moses had finished writing the words of this law in a book, to the very end, Moses commanded the Levites who carried the ark of the covenant of the Lord, “Take this book of the law, and put it by the side of the ark of the covenant of the Lord your God, that it may be there for a witness against you. For I know how rebellious and stubborn you are; behold, while I am yet alive with you, today you have been rebellious against the Lord; how much more after my death!” (Deut. 31:24-27) There is some symbolic significance here. The Law written by Moses is not inside the Ark, but is only put “by the side of the ark of the covenant.” That is, what is inside the Ark of the Covenant is written by God Himself (The Ten Commandments) and is holiest of the holies. But, the Mosaic Law is written by Moses, and made to accommodate and try to restrict sinfulness. It is not as holy, and so, it is only on the side of the Ark, but not in the Ark itself. St. Paul discusses this later in his Epistles, where he says the Law was written because of sinfulness: “Why then the law? It was added because of transgressions..” (Gal. 3:19) But,it was surpassed and superseded by the grace of Jesus Christ and the Gospel. Moses’ Law was not as it was intended “from the beginning.” Jesus’ covenantal bond of friendship and adopted-sons and daughters brings us back to how it was meant to be in the beginning. The Deuteronomic Law seems to be disharmonious with the ideals expressed elsewhere in Scripture, but these are accommodations by Moses towards the sinfulness of Israel.
The Song of Moses:
Here are a few highlights from Moses’ Song:
-“The Rock, his work is perfect; for all his ways are justice.”
-“Is not he your father, who created you,who made you and established you?”
-“When the Most High gave to the nations their inheritance, when he separated the sons of men, he fixed the bounds of the peoples according to the number of the sons of God. For the Lord’s portion is his people, Jacob his allotted heritage.”
-“You were unmindful of the Rock that begotyou, and you forgot the God who gave you birth.”
-“Vengeance is mine, and recompense, for the time when their foot shall slip;
for the day of their calamity is at hand, and their doom comes swiftly.”
-“Where are their gods..”
-“Moses came and recited all the words of this song in the hearing of the people, he and Joshua the son of Nun.”
The Death of Moses Foretold:
“And the Lord said to Moses that very day, “Ascend this mountain of the Abarim, Mount Nebo, which is in the land of Moab, opposite Jericho; and view the land of Canaan, which I give to the people of Israel for a possession; and die on the mountain which you ascend, and be gathered to your people, as Aaron your brother died in Mount Hor and was gathered to his people; because you broke faith with me in the midst of the people of Israel at the waters of Meri-bath-kadesh, in the wilderness of Zin; because you did not revere me as holy in the midst of the people of Israel. For you shall see the land before you; but you shall not go there, into the land which I give to the people of Israel.” (Deut. 32:48-52)
The Final Blessing of Moses Upon Israel:
Deuteronomy is Moses’ last will and testament to his people, Israel. It has become a “constitution” of sorts for Israel, as a synopsis almost of the whole Old Testament. It was to be read and represented to the whole nation of Israel every seven years, and as such, it serves as a liturgical document, calling Israel to ritually renew its covenant with God. Yet, here before his death, Moses offers individual blessings for each of the tribes of Israel. This is a parallel to Jacob’s deathbed blessings of his twelve sons and the twelve tribes of Israel (Gen. 49:1-27) Moses says, “Happy are you, O Israel! Who is like you, a people saved by the Lord, the shield of your help, and the sword of your triumph! Your enemies shall come fawning to you; and you shall tread upon their high places.” (Deut. 33:29)
Moses Ascends Mt. Nebo and Dies in Moab:
“And Moses went up from the plains of Moab to Mount Nebo, to the top of Pisgah, which is opposite Jericho. And the Lord showed him all the land, Gilead as far as Dan, all Naphtali, the land of Ephraim and Manasseh, all the land of Judah as far as the western sea, the Negeb, and the Plain, that is, the valley of Jericho the city of palm trees, as far as Zoar. And the Lord said to him, “This is the land of which I swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, ‘I will give it to your descendants.’ I have let you see it with your eyes, but you shall not go over there.” So Moses the servant of the Lord died there in the land of Moab, according to the word of the Lord, and he buried him in the valley in the land of Moab opposite Beth-peor; but no man knows the place of his burial to this day. Moses was a hundred and twenty years old when he died; his eye was not dim, nor his natural force abated. And the people of Israel wept for Moses in the plains of Moab thirty days; then the days of weeping and mourning for Moses were ended.”
“And Joshua the son of Nun was full of the spirit of wisdom, for Moses had laid his hands upon him; so the people of Israel obeyed him, and did as the Lord had commanded Moses. And there has not arisen a prophet since in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face, none like him for all the signs and the wonders which the Lord sent him to do in the land of Egypt, to Pharaoh and to all his servants and to all his land, and for all the mighty power and all the great and terrible deeds which Moses wrought in the sight of all Israel.” (Deut. 34)
Deuteronomy ends on a somewhat melancholy note that Moses is dead and that a prophet “like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face” has not yet arisen. Deuteronomy ends on a note of longing for the Messiah, Messianic expectation. The Messiah will be a prophet like Moses, who knows the Lord “face to face.” Moses and the Israelites are longing for the emergence of the Messiah. It is Jesus alone, who comes some 1,500 years later, who is the New Moses, a prophet like him, who knows the Lord, God the Father, face to face. It is because Jesus is the Son of God and knows the Father face-to-face, that He speaks with authority, for “No man ever spoke like this man!” (John 7:46)