Monday

Deuteronomy 7:17-26 Monday 1 July 2013


Background

Deuteronomy was composed long after the events which itdescribes, and was first used extensively in the reign of Josiah,king of Judah from about 640 to 610BCE. 2Kings 22:8 describes a spring-clean in the temple, during whichthe High Priest Hilkiah found the book of the law and sent it 'upthe line' to the king himself. It is not clear where the book hadcome from. However, the concerns of Deuteronomy reflect theconditions of the seventh century BCE far more than those of Moses'own time, and so most scholars think that it took its final shapenot long before its discovery, though it may also include oldermaterial.

A little earlier in the nation's history, they had suffered adisaster when the king of Assyria destroyed Israel, the northernkingdom, and came close to inflicting the same fate on Judah, thesouthern kingdom (2 Kings 17). After this, there are hints in thestory that Judah's military position changed. They are no longerable to depend on a paid army. The "people of the land", thepeasants, become much more important, even making Josiah king (2Kings 21:24). Suddenly, Judah's survival depends directly onits people being willing to fight for their country.

Against this background, Moses' 'war speech' can be seen as aresponse to a need of the time when the book was first used inIsrael. Peasants, accustomed for centuries to tilling their fields,needed to become soldiers - and the fear reflected in verse 17makes sense. The speech encourages them by asking them to rememberGod's power, seen in actions long ago. Secondly, it reminds themthat God continues to be a great God, whose power is directedtowards them for their good.

Recent history makes us uneasy with the destruction described inverse 20, but it's useful to remember that these words are intendedto encourage the faint-hearted, and that their rhetoric probably isjust wishful thinking, rather than a reflection of historicalreality. The cost of allegiance to God is reflected in the absoluteprohibition on using anything that has been an idol (verses 25-26),no matter how beautiful or valuable it may be.


To Ponder

  • Where in your life do you need to hear these words of comfort'Have no dread ... for the Lord your God, who is with you, is agreat and awesome God'?
  • How far does it help us make sense of the violence of thispassage if we understand it as a metaphor for God's campaign toeradicate evil from creation?
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