I want to remind you of how helpful it can be to read Deuteronomy as a treaty – a covenant – made between a sovereign ruler and his people. One of the reasons many scholars encourage this is because the structure of Deuteronomy bears such a striking resemblance to treaties made between kings and subject nations in this time period. The LORD is using a model that Moses, who grew up in the Egyptian court, would have been familiar with. But instead of delivering this only to the Israelite leadership, He expects it to be presented to all the people.
The book began with a rapid-fire account of the historical setting, followed by a general command to obey. What would follow in a political treaty, and what follows here, is an outline of the specific ways that Israel is to show their commitment to the LORD.
Chapter 12 begins with a command to “tear down the altars” of the inhabitants of Canaan and “seek the place that the LORD your God will choose…to put His name and make His habitation there…there you shall bring your burnt offerings and your sacrifices.” This is accompanied by assurances that they can eat wherever they like, but must only sacrifice exactly where God tells them to. As the entire chapter begins and ends with warnings to avoid the practices of the other nations, this all likely has to do with keeping Israel from idolatry.
Chapter 13 lays out restrictions about prophecy. Already we’ve seen Abraham, Moses, Aaron, and Miriam referred to as prophets, and the LORD told us in Numbers 12 that it’s His choice alone who He speaks through. The art of prophecy – of speaking the words of a god – was known and accepted by all ancient peoples. The LORD here sets a firm boundary that is in keeping with his commands to not chase after other gods. The punishments for this crime are severe: it’s possible that the LORD views serving other gods not just as false worship, but as treason.
Chapter 14 reminds Israel of the body and food restrictions we saw in Leviticus. Remember that the consistent theme is not whether a food is gross, or healthy, but that the children of Israel are to set themselves apart from the nations around them. This concludes with a call to tithe – or give a tenth of – their produce. Listen here, as before, to the LORD’s reminders to care for the Levites, “because he has no portion or inheritance with you,” and that “the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow…shall come and eat and be filled.”
Our verse for this week is Matthew 22:39: And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
Deuteronomy 12 through 14. Now let’s read it!
And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.