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Know it and Do it: Deuteronomy 27

In Summary:

We will finish the Pentateuch someday in this series. We will finish the Pentateuch someday in this series. Fortunately, the Minor Prophets are shorter.

Deuteronomy 27 sits on the edge of the Promised Land with the people of Israel and Moses. The elders of the people are involved as well as Moses (Deuteronomy 27:1), reflecting the upcoming leadership transition. The commandments of God are referenced here, and then critical ones are restated.

The chapter points strongly to the idea that the Law of God needed to be known by the people. You have a command to write it on a large stone monument—and to write it “distinctly” (Deuteronomy 27:8). Then you have the plan for the people’s recitation of certain parts of the Law. This included proclaiming together that those who forsook the Law were cursed. Not just in trouble, because “cursed” carries with it the idea of divine sanction.

The Law, though, was supposed to be two things. The first is clear. We often fuss about some of the odd details, but those details prevented someone slipping through the loopholes. The second is this: the Law should be known. If people don’t know you cannot hold them to it!

In Focus:

Turn your focus to Deuteronomy 27:9-10. We can see here that the Israelites were learning from an oral presentation, even though it would be written down as well. They were going to be responsible to listen well and remember, passing on what they heard and knew.

Now, back your focus up to Deuteronomy 27:5-7. This portion seems unrelated to the former passage, commanding that the altar of God be built with natural stones rather than dressed ones. In short, because there was no way for a craftsman to improve on God’s work. Nor should anyone build the altar such that they take credit for it.

In Practice:

Where these two intersect best is in the practice of the principle. Even living in a world with the maxim to “believe none of what you hear and half of what you see,” we still lean heavily on word of mouth for information. Don’t believe me? What do you think a review of a restaurant, movie, or business is? Word of mouth. Just because you’ve typed it out doesn’t make it more reliable.

In truth, a world with an unlimited supply of photons to generate Internet words means that today’s web words are on par with prior generations’ spoken hearsay. It’s just words, which we must discern the truth or falsehood of, based on wisdom. We share with Ancient Israel being a word-based culture. This is true in most areas, including religion.

And so we come to the altar. Fortunately, because Jesus died for our sins (see Hebrews…and the Gospels,) we don’t have to build a literal altar. But we can look at the principle of leaving God’s work to stand on its own. This is true of His Work, and His Word.

Consider this: we think that somehow, we can embellish, we can dress up, God’s Word so that people will like it better. Perhaps the Good Lord has been a bit rough around the edges, given a jagged look to the obedience called for. Let’s clean Him up a bit, round it off.

After all, people don’t need to know the unvarnished version. Let’s make it smooth. Except we are responsible for the words, and we are responsible to both the Lord God and the ones who hear us. Let us be certain we’ve got it right.

In Nerdiness:

I’m coming to agree with the idea that Deuteronomy may have been the first book of the Pentateuch written, at least in basic form. Then the rest was written/dictated by Moses to fill out all that occurred. At the very least, it should not be seen as a second telling like we normally call it. Most likely, Deuteronomy is the compact form of the Law for the people, with the finer points explained in Leviticus and Numbers for teaching and administration. Much like our legal system: murder is illegal. Everyone should know that. How does the statute describe murder? Much more in-depth. What do I need to know? That murder is illegal, but my lawyer may need more information.


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