- Introduction- Deuteronomy 29:1
- The covenant is G-d's (Deuteronomy 29:12)
- The covenant is made with the sons of Isra'el (Deuteronomy 29:1), their chiefs, their tribes, their elders, and their officers... all the men of Isra'el, their little ones, their wives and alien who is within their camps (Deuteronomy 29:10-11).
This is consistent with Numbers 15:16 where G-d instructs that "there is to be one law and one ordinance for you [the Isra'elite] and the alien who sojourns with you" as well as other passages in Scripture.
- Covenant Responsibilities
- Required actions
- Prohibited actions
- Turning away from G-d into disobedience and worshiping other gods and serving them (Deuteronomy 30:17-18).
- Restoration from captivity (Deuteronomy 30:3-4)
- G-d will restore his people to the land of their forefathers and prosper and multiply them (Deuteronomy 30:5)
- G-d will circumcise their hearts and "the hearts of your descendants to love the LORD your G-d will all your heart and all your soul, so that you may live" (Deuteronomy 30:6).
- Enemies will be afflicted with the curses of the book (Deuteronomy 30:7)
- G-d will prosper them and rejoice over them (Deuteronomy 30:9)
- Captivity and bondage (Deuteronomy 30:3)
- Death (Deuteronomy 30:18)
- Short days in the Land (Deuteronomy 30:18)
- Required actions
- Conditions for perpetuation
- As a "revealed thing", the covenant is declared to belong to its recipients and their descendants forever [olam] (Deuteronomy 29:29). Nothing is specified in Scripture that would ever serve to end the covenant.
- Enumeration of witnesses - heaven and earth (Deuteronomy 30:19)
- Covenant sign- none stated. Possibly the Sabbath as part of "the commandments" the Isra'elites were supposed to keep as part of this covenant.
- Covenant seal - none given
The Covenant Belongs to G-d
In Deuteronomy 29:12 Moshe relates the covenant to the people using these words:
"You stand today, all of you, before the LORD your God: your chiefs, your tribes, your elders and your officers, even all the men of Israel, your little ones, your wives, and the alien who is within your camps, from the one who chops your wood to the one who draws your water, that you may enter into the covenant with the LORD your God, and into His oath which the LORD your God is making with you today, in order that He may establish you today as His people and that He may be your God, just as He spoke to you and as He swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
As has been continuously noted in this series, the ownership of and authority in His covenants is G-d's alone. Only He has authority to initiate a covenant and can bring something of value to the covenant. We have nothing to offer Him except that which already His.
A Covenant of Grace
As with all of G-d's covenants, this covenant is extended to the Isra'elites and to the gentiles with them as a measure of G-d's grace. These people had done nothing to merit this covenant with G-d.
A Covenant of Blessing
The passages noted above in the "Benefits" section of the covenant reveal that this is a covenant of blessing. It does not appear to be a covenant of salvation except perhaps in the sense that G-d would restore His people after their captivity (Deuteronomy 30:3-4) in the future. It is also a covenant that speaks of the restoration of the people to the Land (Deuteronomy 30:5).
An Everlasting Covenant
The end of chapter 29 includes the declaration "The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our sons forever, that we may observe all the words of this law." This covenant, as one of the things that G-d has revealed, belong to those who received it and their sons forever [ad olam]. Nothing is ever identified in Scripture that would ever serve to end the covenant. As was previously noted in the series, the Hebrew word olam is also used in various passages to describe G-d's eternal and everlasting nature. So, too, are His covenants eternal and everlasting.
A Separate Covenant?
Deuteronomy chapters 29 and 30 appear to lay out a covenant separate from the one found in the earlier chapters in the book. The previous chapters relate the re-giving of the Sinai covenant to the generations that lived after the 40-year period of wandering in the wilderness. Sometimes erroneously referred to as the "Palestinian Covenant", this covenant is likely separate from the renewed Sinai covenant because of the phrasing found in Deuteronomy 29:1:
These are the words of the covenant which the LORD commanded Moses to make with the sons of Israel in the land of Moab, besides the covenant which He had made with them at Horeb.
The word translated as "besides" is מלבד and is transliterated milevad. The translators of the NASB identify this word as coming from two Hebrew words: min (Strong's #4480 meaning "from") and bad (Strong's #905 meaning "separation" or "apart").
There is some question as to whether or not this is a separate covenant or simply a separate part of the re-giving of the covenant at Sinai. Christian tradition holds that the "besides"/ milevad refers to "covenant" thus meaning a separate covenant (mis-labeling it the "Palestinian Covenant"). We identify this as "mis-labeled" because the words Palestine or Palestinian are never found in Scripture.
The term “Palestine” was introduced by the Romans in the 2nd century CE in their attempt to eradicate all traces of the Jewish existence in Eretz Israel, the Land of Israel. The name was derived from the Hebrew name of Philistines (plishtim), long since defeated and extinct enemies of the Jews, who 3200 years ago occupied a small piece of land between Tel Aviv and Gaza. “Palestine” (Syria Palaestina) was to replace the name “Judaea,” after the last Judean war where the Roman troops, vastly superior in number and weapons, had been repeatedly defeated until all the resources of the Jews were exhausted. The name of Jerusalem was to be replaced by “Aelia Capitolina,” which, fortunately, has never become part of common language. The term “Palestine,” whose official use ceased after Romans, would, however, be revived to designate the area mandated to Great Britain by the League of Nations as a consequence of the fall of the Ottoman Empire. Mandatory Palestine included the territory both to the east and to the west of the Jordan River—contemporary Jordan (formerly Transjordan) and Israel. The British were charged with “placing the country under such political, administrative and economic conditions as will secure the establishment of the Jewish national home.”1
Jewish tradition holds that the "besides"/ milevad refers to "words" thus meaning a separate set of words related to the Sinai covenant but meaning a single covenant.
The Jewish tradition has this verse recorded as Deuteronomy 28:69 (at the very end of chapter 28) thus referring to all the passages that came before it (see Mechon-Mamre.org for the Hebrew-English passage text in the Jewish tradition). The Christian tradition records this verse as Deuteronomy 29:1 referring to that which comes after it.
It is the opinion of this author that the "besides"/ milevad refers to the covenant because of the phrasing
מלבד הבּרית (milevad habrit): "besides the covenant". It is not milevad hadevarim: "besides the words".
This term milevad is found in 31 other places in the Tanakh. These are just a few examples:
- Genesis 26:1
- Leviticus 23:37-38 (3 times)
- Numbers 6:21 (where the NASB translates it as "in addition")
- Deuteronomy 4:35
The remainder of this article will examine the relevant text as if it were a separate covenant.
This is G-d's covenant with the sons of Isra'el (Deuteronomy 29:1).
In the previous article of this series, the definition of the word "Deuteronomy" included an observation that the word erroneously meant "second law". Here perhaps is the second law... a second covenant given through Moshe to the children of Isra'el. The "mixed multitude" noted in Exodus 12:38 that was present at Sinai for the giving of the Sinai covenant (or their descendants) was also likely present for the giving of this covenant. The main reference to these non-Israelis appears in Deuteronomy 29:11 when Moshe refers to "the alien who is within your camps".
Interestingly, Scripture also points to "those who are not here with us today" as those with whom G-d is making a covenant. Whether G-d is referring to the predecessors of those who were alive on that day or referring to the future descendants of those who were present (or possibly both?) is not clear.
G-d's covenant that was given in Moav. It is a separate covenant from the Sinai covenant or the renewed covenant but is closely tied to it. The requirements of this covenant point to the requirements of the Sinai covenant but the consequences are directly related to the Land and the Isra'elite's ability to live in it (see below).
Eliezer Shulman, in his book "The Sequence of Events in the Old Testament", provides a Scripturally-based chronology of Biblical events that begins with the Creation. Shulman places the date when the entire book of Deuteronomy occurs as the year 2448 from creation.2 This is about 800 years after the Flood.
The end of the book of Numbers relates that the Isra'elites camped on the plains of Moav opposite Yericho (Numbers 33:48), and that they were by the Yarden from Beit Yeshimot [House of Wastes/ Deserts3] to Avel-Shittim [Meadow of the Acacias4] (Numbers 33:49). This is a roughly 4 to 8 mile span from point to point (click the map at right to expand it... the Dead Sea is bottom center). That depicts the enormous size of the group that was about to enter into the Land.
There are a couple of indications in these chapters as to the "why" of the covenant...
To Fulfill a Promise:
in order that He may establish you today as His people and that He may be your God, just as He spoke to you and as He swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
To Provide a Boundary:
so that there will not be among you a man or woman, or family or tribe, whose heart turns away today from the LORD our God, to go and serve the gods of those nations; that there will not be among you a root bearing poisonous fruit and wormwood.
To Provide a Future Warning:
"All the nations will say, 'Why has the LORD done thus to this land? Why this great outburst of anger?' Then men will say, 'Because they forsook the covenant of the LORD, the God of their fathers, which He made with them when He brought them out of the land of Egypt. They went and served other gods and worshiped them, gods whom they have not known and whom He had not allotted to them. Therefore, the anger of the LORD burned against that land, to bring upon it every curse which is written in this book; and the LORD uprooted them from their land in anger and in fury and in great wrath, and cast them into another land, as it is this day.'"
Note that, once again, G-d indicates that his anger and wrath would be poured out upon the land (verse 27) just as the curse from the original sin was poured out upon the ground (Genesis 3:17).
Because It Is G-d's Revealed Torah:
The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our sons forever, that we may observe all the words of this law.
The Word of Faith
There is phrasing that is found here in Deuteronomy and is echoed in Paul's writings:
For this commandment which I command you today is not too difficult for you, nor is it out of reach. It is not in heaven, that you should say, 'Who will go up to heaven for us to get it for us and make us hear it, that we may observe it?' "Nor is it beyond the sea, that you should say, 'Who will cross the sea for us to get it for us and make us hear it, that we may observe it?' But the word is very near you, in your mouth and in your heart, that you may observe it.
We see Paul write of this very thing:
For Moses writes that the man who practices the righteousness which is based on law shall live by that righteousness. But the righteousness based on faith speaks as follows: "DO NOT SAY IN YOUR HEART, 'WHO WILL ASCEND INTO HEAVEN?' (that is, to bring Christ down), or 'WHO WILL DESCEND INTO THE ABYSS?' (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead)." But what does it say? "THE WORD IS NEAR YOU, IN YOUR MOUTH AND IN YOUR HEART"-- that is, the word of faith which we are preaching, that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation.
Paul tells us that the "word of faith" which he is preaching regarding the Messiah is the same faith described in the words of Moshe: that it is not too difficult for us to walk in faith and obey G-d's commands. If we follow in the footsteps of the Messiah and walk in faith neither is it difficult for us to walk in faith and obedience as He did. This also matches what Scripture tells us about the new covenant:
"Behold, days are coming," declares the LORD, "when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, not like the covenant which I made with their fathers in the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, although I was a husband to them," declares the LORD. "But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days," declares the LORD, "I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. "They will not teach again, each man his neighbor and each man his brother, saying, 'Know the LORD,' for they will all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them," declares the LORD, "for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more."
Here Scripture says that the new covenant involves forgiveness of sin (verse 34) and we know that forgiveness of sin is found in Messiah Yeshua alone (Acts 5:31). Scripture also says that the new covenant will involve G-d writing His law (Hebrew: Torah) upon the hearts of those who are part of the covenant. As a consequence, it is as Moshe and Paul said: it is not too difficult for us to obey G-d's commands.
Inheriting the Land
It is interesting to observe that G-d promised the Patriarchs that they will be given the Land and have descendants to inherit it after them. In those promises there appear to be no conditions or requirements for actually living in the Land. In this covenant we do find such conditions for living and remaining in the Land. Does that somehow nullify G-d's promise?
May it never be!
Instead we find G-d being consistent throughout all of Scripture by progressively revealing Himself and his instruction for humanity. This appears to be the next point of revelation regarding the promises to the Patriarchs.
Traditional Judaism does not consider this covenant separate from the one given at Sinai. Judaism explains this issue of "new requirements" by indicating the requirements are not new at all but that all of the commandments, statutes, and judgments given at Sinai were already known to the Patriarchs5. According to their tradition, it was taught to them by their forefathers who learned it from Adam. They teach that, since Adam was perfect, he must have been given the perfect Law (James calls it this in James 1:25) of G-d and he was able to pass it along to his children.
Additional References to Covenant
After this passage there are numerous additional references to brit [covenant] mostly related to this covenant or the previous covenants, the "ark of the covenant", and a few other covenants (e.g. Joshua 9:6-20 where the Israelites covenant with the people of the land). Joshua personally makes a covenant with the Isra'elites in Joshua 24:25 after his famous "choose this day whom you will serve" speech. See the index of the usage of brit for references between Deuteronomy and 1 Samuel.
The next major covenant spoken of in Scripture is the Davidic covenant but, once again, we find it is not David's covenant with G-d that is revealed first in Scripture.
Footnotes1. Michael Vanyukov of the University of Pittsburgh, "The Palestinian Misnomer", 10/11/2009 from http://www.pitt.edu/~mmv/israel.htm#misnomer [back]
2. The Sequence of Events in the Old Testament, p 81. 1987. Eliezer Shulman [back]
3. Easton's Bible Dictionary: Beth-jeshimoth [back]
4. Easton's Bible Dictionary: Abel-shittim [back]
5. Mishnah Kiddushin 4:14; Tosefta Kiddushin 5:17 [back]