22 November 2016

Deuteronomy 31:9-13

“Every seventh year ... you shall read the law before all Israel in their hearing.” (vv. 10-11)

Psalm: Psalm 55:1-8


A new theme is introduced here. It signifies Moses' religious leadership. He is credited with writing down "this law" (v. 9) (a reference to the book of Deuteronomy, which means 'Second Law' or 'Second Teaching'). Provision is then made for the teaching to be read aloud every seventh year. In one way or another, everyone has to hear the reading: verse 11 refers to a central gathering of the people; verse 12 may refer to readings in several towns (as a follow-up). The reading aloud demands more than mere listening. The hearers are to be prompted to rediscover the conviction that this is none other than God's instruction ("fear the Lord your God" (v. 12)) and to take it to heart ("observe diligently" (v. 12)). The public reading is also an educational tool for children. It contributes to the long process of induction into Israel's faith and pattern of godly living.

The reading every seventh year coincides with the 'year of remission', when (in principle) every creditor remitted the debts owing from any kinsfolk (Deuteronomy 15:1). This particular year marked a new start in Israel's life, putting everyone on a level playing field. It was a re-booting of relationships within the community. It was ideally suited for a renewal of the people's covenant with God.

The public reading is scheduled for the autumn harvest festival - the seven-day festival of booths when 'all is safely gathered in' (Deuteronomy 16:13-15). It was probably called the festival of tabernacles (or booths) because those gathering the harvest set up temporary shelters in the fields to store the crops while the harvesting continued (Isaiah 1:8).

To Ponder

  • How do you evaluate the practice of daily readings from scripture if you use A Word in Time regularly? What from your experience commends this practice to others?
  • It is sometimes alleged that the public reading of the Scripture in Sunday worship is the most boring and alienating part of the service. How in your judgement could this part of the service become more accessible and helpful?
  • It is claimed that peace and harmony in our multi-faith society hinges on religious literacy or a basic awareness of the key themes in the scriptures of the main world faiths. What can you and your church do to contribute to better knowledge and understanding of the Christian Scriptures? 

Bible notes author

The Revd David Deeks

The Revd David Deeks is a retired Methodist minister. He has always focused on theology and spirituality as practical themes.