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Deuteronomy: Chapter 29

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1Moses summoned all Israel and said to them: You have seen all that the LORD did before your very eyes in the land of Egypt, to Pharaoh and to all his courtiers and to his whole country: 2the wondrous feats that you saw with your own eyes, those prodigious signs and marvels.3Yet to this day the LORD has not given you a mind to understand or eyes to see or ears to hear.

4I led you through the wilderness forty years; the clothes on your back did not wear out, nor did the sandals on your feet; 5you had no bread to eat and no wine or other intoxicant to drink—that you might know that I the LORD am your God.

6When you reached this place, King Sihon of Heshbon and King Og of Bashan came out to engage us in battle, but we defeated them. 7We took their land and gave it to the Reubenites, the Gadites, and the halftribe of Manasseh as their heritage. 8Therefore observe faithfully all the terms of this covenant, that you may succeed in all that you undertake.

9You stand this day, all of you, before the LORD your God—your tribal heads, your elders and your officials, allthe men of Israel, 10your children, your wives, even the stranger within your camp, from woodchopper to water drawer—11to enter into the covenant of the LORD your God, which the LORD your God is concluding with you this day, with its sanctions; a I.e., the curses that violations of the covenant will entail. 12to the end that He may establish you this day as His people and be your God, as He promised you and as He swore to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. 13I make this covenant, with its sanctions, not with you alone, 14but both with those who are standing here with us this day before the LORD our God and with those who are not with us here this day.

15Well you know that we dwelt in the land of Egypt and that we passed through the midst of various other nations; 16and you have seen the detestable things and the fetishes of wood and stone, silver and gold, that they keep.17Perchance there is among you some man or woman, or some clan or tribe, whose heart is even now turning away from the LORD our God to go and worship the gods of those nations—perchance there is among you a stock sprouting poison weed and wormwood. 18When such a one hears the words of these sanctions, he may fancy himself immune, thinking, “I shall be safe, though I follow my own willful heart”—to the utter ruin of moist and dry alike. b I.e., everything. 19The LORD will never forgive him; rather will the LORD's anger and passion rage against that man, till every sanction recorded in this book comes down upon him, and the LORD blots out his name from under heaven.

20The LORD will single them c I.e., clan or tribe, v. 17 . out from all the tribes of Israel for misfortune, in accordance with all the sanctions of the covenant recorded in this book of Teaching. 21And later generations will ask—the children who succeed you,and foreigners who come from distant lands and see the plagues and diseases that the LORD has inflicted upon that land, 22all its soil devastated by sulfur and salt, beyond sowing and producing, no grass growing in it, just like the upheaval of Sodom and Gomorrah, Admah and Zeboiim, which the LORD overthrew in His fierce anger—23Vall nations will ask, “Why did the LORD do thus to this land? Wherefore that awful wrath?” 24They will be told, “Because they forsook the covenant that the LORD, God of their fathers, made with them when He freed them from the land of Egypt; 25they turned to the service of other gods and worshiped them, gods whom they had not experienced a See note at 11.28 . and whom He had not allotted b See 4.19–20 . to them. 26So the LORD was incensed at that land and brought upon it all the curses recorded in this book. 27The LORD uprooted them from their soil in anger, fury, and great wrath, and cast them into another land, as is still the case.”

28Concealed acts concern the LORD our God; but with overt acts, it is for us and our children ever to apply all the provisions of this Teaching.


a I.e., the curses that violations of the covenant will entail.

b I.e., everything.

c I.e., clan or tribe, v. 17 .

a See note at 11.28 .

b See 4.19–20 .

Text Commentary view alone
Commentary spanning earlier chapters

28.69–30.20 :

The third discourse of Moses: The ratification ceremony for the covenant on the plains of Moab. Israel is formally adjured to enter the covenant: to swear to obey the laws of chs 12–26 under penalty of the sanctions of ch 28 .

28.69–29.28 :

A didactic review of Israel's history ( 29.1–8 ) precedes an imprecation to ensure loyal adherence to the covenant (vv. 9–28 ). The people are formally assembled and instructed in the serious consequences of what they are about to undertake.

28.69 :

Editorial Heading. NJPS follows the Masoretic textual di‐ vision, understanding the verse as a colophon that concludes the second discourse of Moses ( 4.44–28.69 ). In contrast, most English translations follow the more logical Septuagint system, which regards the verse (as 29.1 ) as a superscription to the third discourse ( 29.1–30.20 ). Similar formulae (these are the…) are used to introduce the first and second discourses ( 1.1; 4.45 ). The covenant…Moab: This editorial heading provides two new perspectives on the legal corpus. ( 1 ) The earlier “laws and rules” ( 12.1 ) are now seen as a unified, single covenant between God and Israel. This perspective is absent from the legal corpus itself, where the word “covenant” appears only at 17.2 . In this third discourse, however, that understanding becomes the norm (see 28.69; 29.8, 11, 13, 20, 24; 31.16, 20 ). ( 2 ) The second new perspective regards the laws of Moab as a covenant in addition to the one made at Horeb; the phrase suggests an editor's attempt to work in a later version of a law or narrative alongside an earlier one (Gen. 26.1; Lev. 23.38 ). This view stylizes Deuteronomy—originally intended as an independent body of law—as now working in tandem with prior law. It is striking that, in other contexts, Deuteronomy does not take the covenant at Horeb into account but presents itself as an independent and autonomous covenant. There is no reference to Horeb in the redundant introductory formulae of 4.44–45 or, more importantly, in the superscription to the legal corpus at 12.1 .

29.1–8 .

Didactic review of Israel's history.

29.1 :

You have seen: As at 5.2–4 , Moses addresses the present generation, who are actually one generation removed from the miraculous events, as if they had themselves lived through the exodus and the wilderness wandering.

2 :

Signs…marvels, see 28.46 n.

3 :

Yet to this day, more accurately, “the Lord has not given you until today.” The thrust is to stress informed consent. The admonition creates a tension with the preceding two verses: the addressees who “have seen” The miraculous events (v. 1 ), which their own “eyes” saw (v. 2 ), are accused of having lacked eyes to see. The castigation reflects the episodes of rebellion ( 9.7–24 ).

4–5 :

The Mosaic homily reinterprets the wilderness wandering, originally intended as divine punishment of Israel (Num. 14.13–35 ), and presents it positively, in didactic terms.

4 :

I: For the intrusion of divine speech into Mosaic speech, see 7.4, 17.3, 28.20, 68 . Clothes…feet, see 8.4 .

5 :

You had no bread to eat…no wine…to drink: The sense is, “It was not bread that you ate…nor wine that you drank.” The manna, quail, and water that Israel consumed were supplied by divine providence ( 8.2–5; Exod. ch 16; Num. 11.4–9, 31–33 ). Know: The miraculous sustenance of Israel in the desert was intended didactically to bring the people to God ( 8.3 ). Knowledge here is not abstract speculation but the recognition of God's historical actions on behalf of the nation. I the Lord am your God, better, “I, Yhvh, am your God” ( 6.4, Exod. 20.2 ).

6–7 :

See 1.4; 2.26–3.22; Num. 21.21–35 .

29.9–28 :

Imprecation to ensure loyalty to the covenant.

9 :

Stand…all of you, in formal array for a public legal ceremony (see Ps. 82.1 ). This day, making the transition from historical review ( 28.69–29.7 ) to present adjuration (similarly, VTE §33).

10 :

In Deuteronomy, all, including women, are included in the covenantal community.

11 :

Covenant…with its sanctions: This legal formula recurs at v. 13 , thus framing the central idea of the covenant: the binding relationship between God and Israel. Sanctions, more accurately, “its imprecation” or “its curse” (see translators' note a). Treaty infraction is punished with “all the curses of the covenant” (v. 20 , more accurately translating the same Hebrew terms), which are named and sworn to in advance. As in the colloquial expression that joins a promise (“Cross my heart”) to a pronouncement dooming oneself for noncompliance (“and hope to die”), so in the ancient Near East were covenants validated by means of a concluding imprecation (VTE §§37–56, 58–106). On that model, the preceding laws of chs 12–26 represent the treaty stipulations; ch 28 , its sanctions; and ch 29 , the formal ceremony of the imprecation.

13–14 :

The covenant binds even future generations (as in VTE §25, 33, 34, 57); consequently, the punishment for infraction of its terms extends to the third and fourth generation ( 5.9; Exod. 20.5; 34.7 ).

16–26 :

A stark, two‐part warning, showing how the attempt even of a single individual secretly to withdraw from the covenant (vv. 16–18 ) jeopardizes the entire nation (vv. 19–27 ).

17 :

Turning away, transferring loyalty from God to other gods ( 13.6–11; 17.2–7 ). Poison weed and wormwood, Hos. 10.4; Amos 5.7; 6.12 .

18 :

Fancy himself immune, rather than proclaim the imprecation, hoping to escape the sanctions of the covenant. Moist and dry: Most likely the paired antonyms designate totality (see 28.3–6 n. ), but the exact meaning is lost.

19 :

Passion: God is described as an “impassioned God” ( 5.9; Exod. 34.14 ; with the adjectival form of the same word), referring to His zeal to defend the mutual exclusivity of the covenant relation. Comes down upon him, more literally, “will crouch down upon them” (cf. Gen. 4.7 ), with the imprecation here almost animate. Blots out his name: The image is of the erasure of a tablet or scroll (Num. 5.23 ), given a theological cast based on the Mesopotamian idea that the divine decree of human fate is inscribed in a heavenly book. Erasure from this book, then, symbolizes punishment ( 9.14; Gen. 6.7; Exod. 17.14; 32.32; 2 Kings 14.27; Ps. 9.6 ). This early, non‐Israelite idea figures prominently in the later Jewish liturgy for Rosh Ha‐Shanah (the Jewish New Year) and Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement).

21–27 :

The negative instruction. As the wilderness wandering provided an instructional lesson for the nation (vv. 4–5 ), so will Israel, now herself transformed into a devastation, provide an object lesson for future generations and other nations. Normally this question‐and‐answer model, which anticipates the child's question, seeks to provide the rationale for ritual observance with reference to God's redemptive acts ( 4.32–38; Exod. 12.25–27; 13.8–10 ). Reversing that scenario, the lesson here involves divine punishment for breach of covenant (see 1 Kings 9.9 ).

22 :

Sulfur and salt were used in antiquity as chemical defoliants by invading armies. Sodom…Zeboiim: The land's resulting sterility will recall the divine devastation of the proverbial wicked cities located in the arid area around the Dead Sea (Gen. 19.24–25; Isa. 1.9–10 ).

24 :

The covenant, conflating the covenants of Horeb and Moab ( 28.69 ).

25 :

Gods…not allotted to them: As at 32.8–9 , the idea is that each nation is allocated its own god, and that Yhvh is the God of Israel. As at 5.7–9 , the existence of other deities is here conceded. Contrast 4.19 , where it is rather only inanimate “stars…[that] God allotted,” which reinterprets the polytheistic image from the later perspective of monotheism.

27 :

Cast them into another land, as is still the case: The reference to the present implies that the chapter was composed subsequent to the Babylonian exile of 586 BCE.

28 :

Concealed acts may, as here, refer to acts that God will punish (vv. 17–18 ); or to future events. More likely, the antithesis rejects religions that define truth in terms of esoteric speculation and restrict access to such truth to a learned few. Instead, the Torah, based upon a public revelation (ch 5 ) and Mosaic instruction (chs 12–26 ), is accessible to all. Similarly, Israel's God is “near” and obedience to the revealed Torah constitutes “wisdom” ( 4.6–7 ). For us and our children ever, tripartite emphasis on lasting open access. To apply continues the antithesis: The Torah requires not esoteric speculation but moral and religious action.

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