I don’t know why I was under the impression that Deuteronomy was an action chapter. It has the least action of any chapter up until now. It opens with Moses delivering one more sermon from the LORD — apparently, the nation of Israel has been chilling on a mountain top with Moses for awhile now, and it’s time for them to be moving along to conquer Canaan. Moses queues up a misty memorial to the sound of flutes, reminding everyone of all they’ve just been through together. It’s a bit passive-aggressive as it’s mostly him reminding them of all the times they’d ignored him and tantrumed against the LORD and gotten what was coming to them, and I guess this is a stage of aging because I recall that my grandparents also spent a lot of time on the ‘remember that time I was right about everything’ highlight reel in their later years.
We are told again that Caleb and Joshua are the only men of the previous generation who God doesn’t hate, and who will get to enter Canaan. We’re also reminded that the Moabites are the children of Lot, and that God has given them their land and will not allow the children of Israel to take it. And we’re given a passing glancing history of what the descendants of the early major players have been doing all this time. Basically, everyone else’s descendants became a race of giants, and you have to wonder what that was all about.
Also, we now find out that the whiners we knew previously have become warlords off camera. In between Numbers and the opening of Deuteronomy, the Israelites slaughtered basically everyone in the Middle East, and they now own most of the developed world. Which would make a pretty good story! But we are not here to be entertained, so this is touched on only briefly in summary. We also learn that Moses has divided up the conquered cities among them, and they’ve left their wives and children and bountiful cattle there while they go to conquer the lands beyond Jordan.
Moses says several times that “the LORD was angry with me for your sakes” and I’m on record that I feel Moses got a raw deal with the whole striking the rock thing, but his deflection here is making me lose respect for him. That is not what happened, Moses! The LORD was angry with you because of YOUR actions! Be a man, and own that.
Moses also really drives home that what the LORD has done for the Jewish people in leading them out of Egypt and everything since is unprecedented in human history — that the LORD has done all this for them and with them to really prove to them that HE exists and is their LORD. And he does not want them to forget it — namely, there will be no idol worship. The LORD has appeared to them many times, and been with them on a daily basis, and HE does not usually do this! So they really, really have absolutely no excuse to fall back on idol worship in future; he expects them to have long memories on this one.
Honestly, these expectations on the LORD’s part are entirely reasonable. He’s made his case, he’s been clear about what he expects, and I do not think it’s too much to ask. However. I’ve spent quite a few chapters with these people? And smart money says they’ll be making a golden calf within the next two weeks tops. And the LORD should certainly know this by now, too! Does divinity somehow impede common sense? These people aren’t going to change, LORD, and it’s foolish to keep doing the same thing and expecting different results.
Next, Moses establishes three cities where people who accidentally and not out of malice kill their neighbors can go run away and live. This is slipped in with one randomly placed paragraph as if it’s self-explanatory.
Then, as is his wont, Moses repeats all of this about 60 times, but I get it: this is his swan song, the last time he gets to address his people. Or do anything. So it’s natural he’d milk it. I can just see Joshua standing to one side, ready to wrench that staff out of the old fart’s hand, just hissing, “RETIRE, bitch,” through his teeth.
“Remember the Ten Commandments?” Moses goes on, just when it seems he is about to stop. “Oh, those were great. And I had the stone tablets and all? And you all worshipped that calf, and oh boy, I was SO MAD! Remember? And then I BROKE the tablets, and had to get them again?! Oh jeez. How did they go again? Let’s see…there was the first, no other gods before me, that was a classic. Then, the second…”
Moses also warns Israel that they are to murder the foreigners they’ll be encountering entirely, with no mercy whatsoever, and to destroy everything they find and not spare or marry a single soul among them.
“Remember the manna? Hahaha, oh man, y’all hated that manna.”
There are several other messages which Moses repeats a million times:
One, the LORD is definitely about to deliver every land in Jordan to Israel. It will seem impossible, but he’s going to make sure they conquer them all and are victorious. This kind of undercuts the tension of whatever we’re about to read.
Two, they are NEVER to forget the recent past, not after these hard times are over, and God heads back up to heaven, and they are prosperous and start to take things for granted. They must remember the LORD did all this for them and that he can still come back and destroy them.
Three, they must not for a second think the LORD is doing this because he has a good opinion of this particular group of cowardly losers. The LORD is doing this because he hates the pagans they’ll destroy, and because he loved their ancestors, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Now, those were some Jews! But that’s it — these people are just in the right place at the right time, and ought not to get a big head about it.
Then Moses reminds them of all the many, many times they’ve fucked up over the last three books and it sounds even worse all summarized together like this.
“Ye have been rebellious against the LORD from the day that I knew you,” says Moses, and he then recounts all the ways he has intervened on their behalf and suffered for their sins, and convinced the LORD not to smite them. I imagine Moses is by this time just speaking to himself here, holding forth about how he personally won World War II and fixed the economy and never got divorced, while the Israelites all subtly scroll through Twitter on their phones underneath the dinner table.
Then Moses says, “Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no more stiff-necked,” and why THAT saying did not become a popular embroidered sampler in evangelical homes I’ll never understand.
There’s a lot about how utterly the Israelites are to destroy the pagans and smash all their idols and altars. The LORD is clear that if anyone — even your own child — so much as suggests worshipping other gods, you are immediately to murder that person. And it occurs to me that if God were really wanting everyone to worship HIM, maybe he could just, oh, I don’t know, make their lives fucking better or something. I mean, maybe if you have an impossible time even keeping the one tribe of people you’ve thrown in with from turning to paganism the second you turn around, it’s because no one wants to worship your tormenting fire-and-brimstone ass. Maybe if instead of setting a large portion of your people on fire every time they complain about being hungry, and making them wander in the desert for generations, and then having them slaughter everyone else on earth, you instead just took care of their basic needs and were nice to them, maybe they’d HAPPILY worship you, and the pagans would convert as well! You catch more pagans with honey, is all I’m saying, LORD. Or, you know, just keep doing the same thing that hasn’t worked once yet, what do I know.
And then, right when I’m already feeling pissed at the LORD, BURNT OFFERINGS! We’re back on the motherfucking piss on my grave burnt goddamn offerings AGAIN. I can’t.
Then more assorted regulations and commands:
No one is to shave between their eyebrows for the dead — pagans do that. Good Jewish men have unibrows and mutilated penises. Then, another long list of the animals that may and may not be eaten. And I’m not totally sure about this, but I think there are passages in here where the LORD (via Moses) dictates to them how to party and make it rain when they’re flush?
Every seven years, there is to be a “release” wherein all existing debts are wiped out, and why is THIS not the archaic Old Testament rule we’ve chosen to stick with and arrange our societies around? Literalists are always banging on about how we shouldn’t have butt sex or birth control BECAUSE GOD, but I’ve never heard a damn one of them advocate for my Biblical right to have my mortgage declared paid after seven years.
God also says here that we’re to openly give to anyone who is poor until they aren’t poor anymore, that there will always be poor among us, and we are never to stop giving to them, AND we’re supposed to be happy about it. This is the first time I’ve seen a hint of coming Jesus in the Old Testament LORD. Of course, we all ignore this part and how many times Jesus says the same thing in the New Testament. Even strict literalists think this one just MUST not apply to US, not in TODAY’S world where we really like our money and really dislike poor people.
Also, all the (Hebrew) slaves are to be freed every seven years…which is weird. Because earlier God was clear that they can only sell foreigners into slavery, not each other. But here, he says, “And if thy brother, an Hebrew man, or an Hebrew woman, be sold unto thee, and serve thee six years; then in the seventh year thou shalt let him go free.” Well, we know a lot of translators of the Bible slipped their own agendas in; I don’t think King James had slavery as a big concern? But I can certainly see someone adding in the “Hebrew” along the way to ensure this would not seem to apply to their own slaves.
But if the slave wants to stay, you can pierce their ear and they will be your forever slave. And I remember when I went to the creepy Christian school, we sang a hymn wherein we asked the LORD to pierce our ears so we could be his forever servants, and it always made me super uncomfortable even without the full context.
Can I digress for a minute and say how awesome it is being an adult, not least of which because nobody can ever again force me to sing hymns or recite pledges or prayers that I don’t agree with and that freak me out? Why do we think it’s ok to force children and football players to mouth loyalty pledges for concepts they don’t necessarily agree with, and in the case of children couldn’t really understand even if they wanted to, day in and day out, like the Hitler youth? It’s gross, and we should stop it. Tell your children they may conscientiously object from pledges, chants, loyalty oaths, mantras, hymns, prayers, and allegiance ceremonies of all kinds.
There’s a bit about how to properly accuse someone of idolatry — first, you have to get two or three people to say they saw it. If only one person says they did, that’s not enough for a conviction but if two people have the same enemy, they can legally stone him any time. The “witnesses” get to begin the stoning, but then everyone else can join in, too.
The people are to elect their own king and the king is not to be too concerned with his own wealth or take too many wives. He is in a service role. This is nice!
Also, God is pretty clear here that no one is to consult fortune tellers or fool around with magic or witchcraft; this is up there with idolatry.
Then Moses says: “The LORD thy God will raise up unto thee a Prophet from the midst of thee, of thy brethren, like unto me; unto him ye shall hearken. “ Christians concluded this was Jesus; the Jews have famously disagreed. I’m with the Jews on this one, because Moses clearly says “a prophet, like unto me” and compares this prophet to himself in other ways. Moses is not divine. If he were predicting Jesus here, surely he’d say “like unto the LORD” and so on.
The LORD also helpfully explains that the people can identify a false prophet by his prophecies not coming true. A-doy. Also, how is prophecy different from telling the future, which God just said was an abomination?
Moses speaks some more about the three sanctuary cities for hapless murderers; he gives one example — if you and your neighbor are felling trees and you accidentally squish him. So, like, Laura Bush-level crimes.
Bearing false witness results in death or whatever punishment you were seeking, so if a man is found innocent, his accusers are found guilty. Our legal system has preserved this tradition only in the case of rape accusations.
Now: war. You could be exempt from the draft if you recently built a new house, or planted a vineyard you didn’t yet get to eat from, or married a woman you didn’t yet get to fuck, or if you were scared. Once they’ve conquered the Promised Land, when they go onto conquer other, more far off cities, if a city surrenders, they should enslave its people rather than kill them, and even if it doesn’t, they’re only to kill the men but to take the women and children.
But for the cities within the Promised Land, they’re to kill everyone. Hittites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites, Jebusites.
The rules go on:
If, in the course of all this conquering, you see a hot woman and want to marry her, you can seize her, force her to shave her head and cut her nails, and after she’s had a full month to mourn her family who you’d slaughtered, then you can rape and marry her. But when you get sick of raping her, you’re not to sell her and profit off it; you have to just let her go.
Also, if you hate one of your wives, you still can’t disrupt the birth order; firstborn son still gets the most even if his mom is a bitch. If you have a drunken fat son who won’t do what you tell him, you and his mother can have him stoned, though.
Don’t leave a corpse in a tree overnight; cut it down and bury it. If you see someone’s livestock running loose, don’t be an asshole and pretend you didn’t notice; go deal with it for them. Same thing if you see a lost possession or a fallen ass or ox. Don’t pretend you don’t notice if someone’s broken down on the side of the road. It’s an abomination for women to wear pants, or men dresses.
There’s some abstract stuff about bird’s nests and roof beams, and how you can’t wear wool and linen together.
If a guy finds a woman to be a bad lay and so accuses her of not being a virgin, her parents should show the bloody sheet to the village elders and the elders will make him pay her father 100 shekels of silver because that was a perfectly good hymen he’d sold him. But if she didn’t bleed, all the men of the city will stone her in her father’s doorway. If any man sleeps with a married woman, kill them both. If a virgin who is engaged gets raped in the city, stone them both, because if she was so against it, she’d have cried out, and it being in the city, someone would have stopped it, because women are obviously very highly respected in this society! But if she got raped in a field, only stone the rapist, because she might have screamed and no one was around. However if a man rapes a virgin who is NOT engaged, he’s to pay her dad fifty shekels and marry her.
“He that is wounded in the stones, or hat this privy member cut off, shall not enter into the congregation of the LORD.” Another excellent sampler pillow that has been overlooked.
A bastard, nor any of 10 generations of his descendants shall not enter into the congregation of the LORD. Nor Ammomites nor Moabites, even to 10 generations.
Don’t hate Edomites or Egyptians, though; the LORD is cool with them.
Everyone is to have a little spade attached to their weapon that they can use to dig a hole to shit in and then cover it up.
Then, more boring but nicer stuff:
If a slave runs off, leave him alone. Don’t go take back what you leant a neighbor; let him bring it to you. If you borrow something from a poor man, give it back within the day. Don’t hold pay from the poor or push them around. Men are not to be killed for the sins of their children or vice versa. Don’t torment strangers or orphans or widows, and leave scraps out for them in the field. If your brother dies childless, be a pal and rape his wife until she has a son you can name after him. But if you’re not into her, she can go complain to the elders and she can take your shoe off and spit in your face and your name will be mud. If two guys are fighting and one of their wives gets involved and grabs the other by the nuts, cut her hand off. “Cursed be he that maketh the blind to wander out of the way.”
Finally, we get to the consequences for those who don’t obey all these rules:
“The LORD shall smite them with a consumption, and with a fever, and with an inflammation, and with an extreme burning, and with the sword, and with blasting, and with mildew; and they shall pursue thee until thou perish.” This goes on for PAGES; the LORD really details the most elaborate, savage smiting imaginable. You’ll eat your own children in the siege, etc.
And then, finally, we are done. We are really done now, with the Torah. No more laws, no more rules, no more regulations. Moses is 120 years old, and he has said everything he has to say. He calls Joshua over at long last…and then he tells the people that he has written all this shit down, and the priests are to read it aloud to them every seven years.
Then, the LORD helpfully tells Moses that it’s time for him to die, and they do a little handover ceremony with Joshua at the Tabernacle. Then, God says to Moses, “look, we both know that as soon as you are in the ground, these people are going to break all these laws immediately and start worshipping idols and I’m going to get mad and kill them all. So I’ve written you a song to teach them, because we haven’t tried that before. Maybe they’ll retain all this if it’s in verse! Like a mnemonic!”
Moses berates everyone some more and lectures, but he is more poetic and dramatic here in his death throes than he has been previously. No longer is he just rattling off long lists of repetitive prosaic statutes. So I guess this bit is the song? It’s good! I’m glad Moses finally gets to be interesting for a couple of pages before he kicks off.
Then, God tells Moses to go up Mt. Abarim and die there, so Moses blesses each of the tribes and then, dutiful flunky to the end, he hikes up a mountain, looks out once over that long promised land, and dies.