Thursday, May 1, 2014

Exposition of Deuteronomy 6:25-7:11

 DEUTERONOMY 6:25-7:11

“And it will be righteousness for us, if we are careful to do all this commandment before the Lord our God, as he has commanded us. When the Lord your God brings you into the land that you are entering to take possession of it, and clears away many nations before you, the Hittites, the Girgashites, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites, seven nations more numerous and mightier than you, and when the Lord your God gives them over to you, and you defeat them, then you must devote them to complete destruction. You shall make no covenant with them and show no mercy to them. You shall not intermarry with them, giving your daughters to their sons or taking their daughters for your sons, for they would turn away your sons from following me, to serve other gods. Then the anger of the Lord would be kindled against you, and he would destroy you quickly. But thus shall you deal with them: you shall break down their altars and dash in pieces their pillars and chop down their Asherim and burn their carved images with fire.
 “For you are a people holy to the Lord your God. The Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the Lord set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but it is because the Lord loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers, that the Lord has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt. Know therefore that the Lord your God is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, to a thousand generations, and repays to their face those who hate him, by destroying them. He will not be slack with one who hates him. He will repay him to his face. You shall therefore be careful to do the commandment and the statutes and the rules that I command you today.” (Deuteronomy 6:25-7:11 ESV)

Introduction

This passage in Deuteronomy 7 presents one of the hardest and, as one commentator said, most offensive texts in all of Scripture: complete destruction of Israel’s surrounding, enemy nations, showing them no mercy.[1] However, at the same time it offers perhaps one of the most encouraging texts in Scripture: Israel’s gracious election.[2] This paradoxical relationship must be understood in order to fully grasp God’s relationship with Israel, his chosen people, throughout the rest of Scripture.[3] This relationship also builds on a perceived tension between obedience and grace, observable in vv. 6:29, 7:7, and 7:11.[4] To understand this tension is to understand all of God’s dealing with man.[5]
Literary Structure and Features
            Most, if not all commentators see 7:1-26 as a complete section in itself, and so do not divide up the chapter into sections to be studied more independently from the rest of the chapter. It is very clear that there is a chiastic or concentric pattern to this section. Virtually all scholars and commentators recognize this. They see the chiasmus arranged as follows:
A: Destruction of the surrounding nations and their gods: Israel is to be holy (7:1-6)
B: God’s love for the Patriarchs is the reason for the exodus (7:7-8)
            C: Yahweh is the loving God and is faithful to the covenant
B1: God will keep the covenant he promised to the Patriarchs, so Israel must remember the exodus (7:11-19)
A1: Destruction of the nations and their gods so that Israel will not be devoted to destruction herself (7:20-26)[6]
In spite of this, this paper is limited to a smaller section contained within this larger section. Upon studying more closely, one may find a smaller chiastic pattern even within the more limited scope of verses 6:29-7:11. Indeed, this writer thinks that this is the case. If so, this smaller chiasmus of 6:29-7:11 within the larger chiasmus of 7:1-26 would be arranged as follows:
            A: Israel is to do all of the commandment the Lord has commanded (6:25)
                        B: Israel is to devote the competing nations to destruction (7:1-5)
C: Israel is a people holy to the Lord and has been elected as such only by the grace of God (7:6-9)
                        B1: The nations are repaid by being destroyed (7:10)
            A1: Israel is to do all of the commandment that the Lord commands them (7:11)
            The main reason for treating this text independently from the rest of the section is that this section deals majorly with the election of Israel as God’s chosen people, whereas the rest of the text is more of an introduction to and exposition of those subsequent statutes and rules Israel must follow. And within this particular, shorter text one may find several literary features such as chiastic or concentric structures.

Contextual Factors
Immediate Literary Context
            The election of Israel has been set precariously between a command to follow “as he [Yahweh] has commanded us” and to obey the commandment “that I [Yahweh] command you today.” Surely this is no coincidence. Up until this point, Deuteronomy, a book many have considered to be a re-telling of the law, has been pushing the Israelites forward to the Promised Land, but constantly calling them back to remember their history.[7] Chapter seven continues with this theme of pushing forward but simultaneously calling them back. Moses begins in verse 7:1 by saying, “When the LORD your God brings you into the land…” but soon calls them back to their past, reminding them that their election is based on the Lord’s love for their fathers and his keeping the covenant that he swore to them. And with an already present tension between the quickly approaching future and remembering the past, another tension is added: the tension of works or obedience and grace.[8] These different tensions just add to the intensity of the passage, presenting an on-the-edge experience. Deuteronomy continues to push forward into the future even until the final chapter, rightly being called a “book on the boundary.”[9]
Historical Context
            There are those who would place the composition of Deuteronomy took place over a period of many centuries based on a fusion of sources and traditions, originally orally transmitted but later committed to writing.[10] These usually subscribe to what is known as the JEDP theory, which posits that Deuteronomy was the product of the discovery of the Book of the Law in the Temple and the radical religious reformation that followed, carried out in 621 BCE, during the reign of King Josiah (640-608 BCE).[11] There remain those who would dispute that theory, however, and they argue in favor of Mosaic authorship or source.[12] In both cases, the book of Deuteronomy remains “a book on the boundary,” and the message is changed little. However, the earlier date of the book seems much more probable, and, as Wright has noted, hermeneutically, it is best to interpret the text from the standpoint it assumes in the book.[13] The future orientation of this book guarantees that the text will be relevant for future generations, and as such, it makes little difference when determining the meaning of the text whether one dates the composition of the text to the first or second millennium BCE.[14] Nevertheless the position of this paper is that of the more ancient date.
            Historically, then, the book of Deuteronomy would have been a book that was written to a new generation, whose faith was not quite its own and who was embarking on a transition unlike they had ever seen before. Both guidance by Moses and their life in the wilderness was quickly coming to an end (Dt. 31 and 1). They were leaving the mountain they knew where God had been visibly and audibly present and going into a place where God would not be so clearly present. They were almost being forced into the seemingly unknown future. But it is chapter seven that brings them their encouragement.
Social Context
            Having been written in the time of Moses when the Israelites were on the precipice of the Promised Land, the text of 6:25-7:11 is of special relevance. Verse one lists all the many nations before them: the Hittites, Girgashites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites. These verses describe these seven nations as “mightier” and “more numerous” than the Israelites. This displays the weakness, inferiority, and lowliness of Israel as a nation, which is used as perspective to stress the power of Yahweh.[15] Verses 3-5 make clear that these people are idolaters and that God has committed them to destruction and judgment.[16] These groups, clearly stronger than Israel, apparently intimidated them to such a degree that several encouragements have to be brought up throughout the text that though they were small and weak, Yahweh has delivered them before and will do it again (e.g., 7:2, 6-11, 17-19, etc.).[17] Though they are small compared to the other nations, they need not fear; they have God who will repay those who hate him to their faces (7:10).
Theological Context
            Like the rest of Deuteronomy, chapter seven calls the Israelites back to remember their history. Fearing what lay ahead, Moses assured the people that the same God who delivered them out of the land of bondage in Egypt is keeping his covenant with their fathers by handing the competing nations over to them so that they may enter the Promised Land. Not only are they assured of God’s identity as faithful covenant-keeper (7:9), but they are assured of their own identity as God’s “treasured possession” (7:6).[18] They may be assured that because of God’s identity and their identity, their future has been definitely secured by the one true God of their fathers Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, being distinct from the gods of the nations they were to tear down and destroy (7:3-5).[19] The way Israel, God’s chosen people, dealt with the gods of the surrounding nations give precedent to how God’s people in the future (Jewish and Christian) would later view and treat them in the future- not necessarily by destroying the people who worship them, but by repudiating and rejecting the lifeless gods in place of the faithful, covenant-keeping God. As a distinct people, Israel was to serve God alone and the destruction of the people and their gods was a sign of commitment to God and their affirmation of their identity as his treasured people.[20]
Theological Function
Bases for Obeying the Commandment
            Many commentators focus so much on Israel’s negative command to mercilessly destroy all the competing nations that they just barely touch on the positive (and more important) aspect of this text, namely, the election of Israel.[21] Weinfeld notes that “chosen” is used here as a theological term for the first time in Deuteronomy (7:6).[22] Surely, this is important. But why are so many commentators eager to put the negative command to destroy (hērem) the competing nations when clearly the focus is on the positive election of Israel? Perhaps most obviously, the concept of holy war and genocide is repugnant to most thinking people, and so the commentators must make an attempt to account for its presence in Deuteronomy and explain its implication for a Christian ethic.[23] Nonetheless, the focus of this passage is more on the election of Israel than the destruction of the nations, though in a sense they are intertwined.
“It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the LORD set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but it is because the LORD loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers,” (7:7-8a). God’s election is based upon grace and love, not deed, status or merit. God loved (hāšaq) Israel because he loved Israel.[24] God chose Israel because he loved her, not because Israel was great or powerful or even deserving. Israel’s election nevertheless requires something of the people, in keeping with the constant tension between work and grace. “You shall therefore be careful to do the commandment and the statutes and the rules that I command you today” follows only a few lines after those lines which said that God loved Israel just because he loved her. It is because of God’s love that Israel does (and can do) that which the Lord commands the people to do. Indeed, the whole of Israel’s election is situated between verses commanding obedience to God and his commands. Israel’s election, then, is partly God’s grace and partly God’s means of acting in the world.
            Part of his purposes in both action and election is to make Israel utterly distinct among the nations.[25] This distinction is carried out in the command in verses 1-5. Wright sees three divisions within this command: political (verse 2b: “make no covenant with them”), social (verses 3-4: “you shall not intermarry with them”), and religious (verse 5: “break down their altars”).[26] Their obedience in following the commandment and the subsequent rules and statutes to be presented was both a judgment on the nations and an affirmation of their identity as a people, who belonged to the Lord and were distinct in all ways from the other nations.[27] Another motivation to obeying the commandment is Israel’s distinction. To remain unique, they must be and act different.
            God’s faithfulness to Israel in the past is the final motivation given for obeying the commandment. “Know therefore that the LORD your God is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, to a thousand generations, and who repays to their face those who hate him, by destroying them,” (7:9-10a). The logic that flows from these verses is that those who love God are those whom he has chosen, and those whom he has chosen obey his commandment. From these verses one must conclude that it is because of God’s prior election and love that Israel can love him and obey his commandment.[28]
The Commandment
            As has been stated already, the emphasis of this section is not on the commandment itself, but on Israel’s election, which is the enablement to obey the commandment. Still, the commandment cannot be ignored. It is important and hard to understand, and so one should tread lightly when approaching this text. Some older commentators tried to understand the destruction of the nations as a metaphoric destruction, but more contemporary commentators have disputed that interpretation.[29] Though many contemporary commentators focus on the destruction of the different ancient pagan gods in chapters 7-10, Dennis Olson found a more timeless approach to the text, which simplifies the gods that Israel had to destroy into three categories: Militarism (chapter seven), Materialism (chapter eight), and Moralism (chapter nine).[30] This paper is limited to chapter seven and, so, just the god of Militarism. The descriptor given to the readers about the seven other nations is that they are “mightier and more numerous than” Israel (7:1). This first statement affirms that Israel is weak and small. The second (7:2) states that Yahweh will give them over to Israel.[31] These two statements affirm Israel’s inability, but Yahweh’s ability and determination. This is relevant for a number of reasons. First, it helps take the emphasis off of the destruction of the nations and puts Israel’s election back into focus. It does so by showing that the commandment given is not just about destruction of the nations, but about a destruction of the mindset of Israel, namely that Israel was in some way better than the other nations and so was elected based on those qualifications. That Israel is shown to be impotent and that it is Yahweh who loves and conquers shows that the election is not of works, but of God’s grace. And second, it shows the absolute reliance of Israel on God. It is by his grace that they love him and are able to keep and observe his commandment. Yahweh is the one who accomplishes, not Israel, and it is by his grace that Israel is who she is. To remain under God’s grace as his treasured people Israel must exhibit fidelity to him alone (7:1-5) and be careful to keep his commandment (7:11).
Conclusion
            Though the tension is ever present and situated between exhortations to obey the commandment, God as gracious covenant-keeper is kept at the center of Deuteronomy 6:25-7:11, giving a basis for understanding the relationship between God and Israel and God’s expectation of works within a relationship that is based on grace. Christians too must recognize that from the beginning, God’s dealing with his people has always been gracious: we are saved by grace unto good works (Eph. 2:8-10), and so the relevance of this text is timeless.



BIBLIOGRAPHY

Block, Daniel I.  The NIV Application Commentary: Deuteronomy. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2012.

Criagie, Peter C.  The Book of Deuteronomy. New International Commentary on the Old Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1976.

Crump, Wayne. “Deuteronomy 7: A Covenant Sermon.” Restoration Quarterly 17, no. 4 (1974): 222-235.

Earl, Douglas. "The Christian significance of Deuteronomy 7." Journal Of Theological Interpretation 3, no. 1 (March 1, 2009): 41-62.

McConville, J. Gordon. Grace in the End: A Study in Deuteronomic Theology. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1993.

O'Connell, Robert H. "Deuteronomy VII:1-26 : asymmetrical concentricity and the rhetoric of conquest." Vetus Testamentum 42, no. 2 (April 1, 1992): 248-265.

Olson, Dennis T.  Deuteronomy and the Death of Moses: A Theological Reading. Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2005.

Plaut, W. Gunther.  Deuteronomy.  Torah: Modern Commentary.  New York: Union of American Hebrew Congregations, 1983.

Von Rad, Gerhard. Holy War in Ancient Israel. Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 2000.

Weinfeld, Moshe.  Deuteronomy 1-11: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary.  Anchor Bible Commentary.  New York: Doubleday, 1st ed., 1991.

Wright, Christopher J.H.  Deuteronomy.  Understanding the Bible Commentary Series.  Grand     Rapids: Baker Academic, 2012.






[1] Daniel I. Block, The NIV Application Commentary: Deuteronomy (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2012), 205.
[2] Wayne Crump, "Deuteronomy 7: A Covenant Sermon," Restoration Quarterly 17, no. 4 (January 1, 1974): 225
[3] Christopher J.H. Wright, Understanding the Bible Commentary Series: Deuteronomy, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2012): 108-109.
[4] Crump, “Deuteronomy 7,” 225.
[5] Ibid.
[6] Wright, Deuteronomy, 108. Block [Block, Deuteronomy, 206] inserts another level into the chiasmus, but the content is by and large identical to Wright. O’Connell [Robert H. O’Connell, “Deuteronomy VII:1-26: Asymmetrical Concentricity and the Rhetoric of Conquest,” Vetus Testamentum 42, no. 2 (April 1, 1992), 248-265] differs substantially from both Wright and Block, adding many more layers to his understanding of the chiasmus. Nevertheless, his contains much the same information, albeit with much added, but this merely displays how clear it is that Deuteronomy 7:1-26 contains a chiastic pattern.
[7] Wright, Deuteronomy, 1, 8-9, 14-15.
[8] Crump, Deuteronomy 7, 225.
[9] Wright, Deuteronomy, 9.
[10] See Gunther W. Plaut, “Deuteronomy,” in The Torah: A Modern Commentary (NY: URJ Press, 2005), 1142-1146; Moshe Weinfeld, Deuteronomy 1-11: A New Translation and Commentary (NY: Doubleday, 1991), 9-12; and Crump, “Deuteronomy 7,” 225-227.
[11] Plaut, “Deuteronomy,” 1142-1143.
[12] See Wright, Deuteronomy, 6-8; Peter C. Craigie, The Book of Deuteronomy (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1976), 24-29; and J. Gordon McConville, Grace in the End: A Study of Deuteronomic Theology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1993), 15-64.
[13] Wright, Deuteronomy, 8.
[14] Ibid.
[15] Ibid., 109.
[16] Block, Deuteronomy, 205-209.
[17] Wright, Deuteronomy, 119.
[18] Ibid., 115-116.
[19] Craigie, Deuteronomy, 179-181. See also Wright, Deuteronomy, 110-111.
[20] Wright, Deuteronomy, 111; Craigie, Deuteronomy, 177-179; and Block, Deuteronomy, 206-209.
[21] Douglas Earl, “The Christian Significance of Deuteronomy 7,” Journal of Theological Interpretation 3, no. 1 (March 1, 2009), 42.
[22] Moshe, Deuteronomy 1-11, 367.
[23] See Gerhard von Rad, Holy War in Ancient Israel (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1991); Block, Deuteronomy, 205; and Craigie, Deuteronomy, 36-68.
[24] Wright, Deuteronomy, 116.
[25] Block, Deuteronomy, 207.
[26] Wright, Deuteronomy, 110.
[27] Ibid., 111; Craigie, Deuteronomy, 177-179; Earl, Christian Significance, 42; and Block, Deuteronomy, 206-209.
[28] Wright, Deuteronomy, 116-117.
[29] Block, Deuteronomy, 205.
[30] Olson, Deuteronomy and the Death of Moses: A Theological Reading (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 1994), 52-53.
[31] Ibid., 53-54.

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