The book of Deuteronomy begins with these words:
These are the words which Moses spoke to all Israel across the Jordan in the wilderness, in the Arabah opposite Suph, between Paran and Tophel and Laban and Hazeroth and Dizahab. It is eleven days' journey from Horeb by the way of Mount Seir to Kadesh-barnea. In the fortieth year, on the first day of the eleventh month, Moses spoke to the children of Israel, according to all that the LORD had commanded him to give to them, after he had defeated Sihon the king of the Amorites, who lived in Heshbon, and Og the king of Bashan, who lived in Ashtaroth and Edrei.
The name "Deuteronomy" comes to modern English readers from the Septuagint and the Greek name for this book of the Bible: deuteronomion. The American Heritage Dictionary provides the following definition:
A book of the Bible.
[Late Latin deuteronomium, from Greek deuteronomion, a second law (from (to) deuteronomion (touto), Septuagint mistranslation of Hebrew misne hattora hazzo't, a copy of this law) : deuteros, second + nomos, law.]1
As the American Heritage Dictionary reveals, we do not find here a "second law" but a re-giving of the Law that was delivered at Mt. Sinai (which is also called Mt. Horev). Moshe makes this clear in chapter 5:
Then Moses summoned all Israel and said to them: "Hear, O Israel, the statutes and the ordinances which I am speaking today in your hearing, that you may learn them and observe them carefully. The LORD our God made a covenant with us at Horeb [Sinai]. The LORD did not make this covenant with our fathers [i.e. the Patriarchs], but with us, with all those of us alive here today. The LORD spoke to you face to face at the mountain from the midst of the fire, while I was standing between the LORD and you at that time, to declare to you the word of the LORD; for you were afraid because of the fire and did not go up the mountain. He said, 'I am the LORD your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall have no other gods before Me.'
Moshe goes on after verse 7 to quote the remainder of the 10 commandments and other statutes. This is a re-giving of the Sinai covenant.
- Introduction- Exodus 20:2
- The covenant is G-d's (Exodus 19:5)
- The covenant is made with the sons of Israel (Exodus 12:37) and the mixed multitude that was with them (Exodus 12:38). This is reiterated in Numbers 15:16 where G-d instructs that "there is to be one law and one ordinance for you [the Israelite] and the alien who sojourns with you" as well as other passages in Scripture.
- Covenant Responsibilities
- Required actions
Numerous. Traditionally there are 613 commandments given within the Sinai Covenant. The Babylonian Talmud records that there are 365 negative commandments, corresponding to the number of days in a solar year, and 248 positive commandments, ascribed to the number of bones and significant organs in the human body.2
- Prohibited actions
- Those who keep the covenant will be G-d's own possession among all the peoples and they shall be to Him a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. (Exodus 19:5-6)
- Various others including G-d's promise to make His dwelling among the people. He will walk among them and be their G-d, and they shall be His people. (Leviticus 26:3-13)
- Various (e.g. Leviticus 26:14-45)
- Required actions
- Conditions for perpetuation
- The covenant is specified to be for those who receive it at Sinai (both the Israelites and the foreigner) and their descendants as an "everlasting covenant" [l'brit olam] (Leviticus 24:8, Numbers 18:19). Nothing is ever identified in Scripture that would ever serve to end the covenant.
- Enumeration of witnesses - none stated
- Covenant sign- The Sabbath (Exodus 31:13,17)
- Covenant seal- none stated directly.
In Isaiah 8:16 G-d says to Isaiah "bind up the testimony, seal the Law among [His] disciples".
The Covenant Belongs to G-d
G-d refers to the covenant as "My covenant" in Exodus 19:5. As has been noted throughout this series on covenants, 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. It is His covenant that was made at Mt. Sinai/Mt. Horev that is again being offered to the people.
A Covenant of Grace
As with all of G-d's covenants, this covenant is extended to the Israelites 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. In fact, they had done the exact opposite: they had broken the covenant with their idolatry towards the golden calf. How great is G-d's mercy and grace!
A Covenant of Salvation
We should also recognize from the events of the Exodus and the wanderings in the desert that this is also a covenant of salvation. It is covenant consequential to their salvation from bondage in Egypt, salvation from the army of Pharaoh at the Red Sea, salvation from the attacks of their enemies while they wandered in the wilderness, and salvation from the curse of wandering in the wilderness itself. While this is not the "great and eternal salvation" (which is found only in Messiah Yeshua) it is salvation none the less. Like the salvation covenants G-d made previously we see this covenant established after G-d's judgment had been delivered. This covenant also provides a picture of G-d's future, eternal salvation.
An Everlasting Covenant
G-d describes this covenant to be for those who receive it at Sinai (both the Israelite and the foreigner) and their descendants as an "everlasting covenant" [l'brit olam] (Leviticus 24:8, Numbers 18:19). Nothing is ever identified in Scripture that would ever serve to end the covenant. As noted previously in the series, the Hebrew word olam is also used in various passages to describe G-d's eternal and everlasting nature.
Although specifically commanded not to commit idolatry the Israelites did so (Exodus 32) and violated the covenant before it was even 2 months old. Jeremiah 31:32 describes the Sinai covenant as the covenant "which they broke". Indeed it was. Here G-d graciously renews the covenant with a new generation. To whom is this covenant given?
In order to clearly understand the answer to the "who" question we must first back up and return to the story of the Exodus and the events at Mt. Sinai:
The Law was never given to save anyone.
Exodus 32 relates the story of the sin of the golden calf and the breaking of the Sinai covenant both in a spiritual sense (when the Israelites committed idolatry) and in a physical sense (when Moshe broke the tablets of the covenant afterward). About 3,000 men died that day (Exodus 32:28). We see at the inauguration of the New Covenant that around 3,000 were saved (Acts 2:41). From this we can see the truth of Paul's words in 2 Corinthians 3:6: "for the letter kills but the Spirit gives life". The Law was never given to save anyone. Only by the regenerating work of G-d's Spirit do we have new life and the freedom from our bondage to sin to enable us to be obedient to G-d's commands. In fact, we cannot fully and properly follow the Law apart from G-d (John 15:5).
Aside from the 3,000 who lost their lives that day there seems to be no additional consequence to the people of Israel in regards to the Sinai covenant. Is it possible that only those 3,000 were involved in the idolatry? Perhaps. Exodus 32:3 states it was "all the people". In Exodus 32:10 we see G-d's anger directed towards the whole group. Moshe intercedes for them and they are spared except for the 3,000 who are slain.
The covenant that was broken at Sinai (as a result of the Israelite's idolatry) is renewed and offered to the descendants of those who stood at Sinai.
G-d's covenant that was given at Sinai. It is the same covenant given again to a new generation.
Identifying when these events occurred involves back-tracking several years into history to a time prior to the events of Deuteronomy chapter 1.
Fear and disobedience
Numbers 13-14 relates the story of the 12 spies and the subsequent spirit of fear and disobedience that came upon the Israelites in their unwillingness to enter into the Land. Numbers 14:28-35 relates G-d's judgment for their disobedience:
Say to them, 'As I live,' says the LORD, 'just as you have spoken in My hearing, so I will surely do to you; your corpses will fall in this wilderness, even all your numbered men, according to your complete number from twenty years old and upward, who have grumbled against Me. Surely you shall not come into the land in which I swore to settle you, except Caleb the son of Jephunneh and Joshua the son of Nun. Your children, however, whom you said would become a prey--I will bring them in, and they will know the land which you have rejected. But as for you, your corpses will fall in this wilderness. Your sons shall be shepherds for forty years in the wilderness, and they will suffer for your unfaithfulness, until your corpses lie in the wilderness. According to the number of days which you spied out the land, forty days, for every day you shall bear your guilt a year, even forty years, and you will know My opposition. I, the LORD, have spoken, surely this I will do to all this evil congregation who are gathered together against Me. In this wilderness they shall be destroyed, and there they will die.'"
It is after this 40 year period of wandering that the covenant is renewed with the children of Israel. Those who were less than twenty years old at the time of the sin of the 10 spies and the children born after them are the participants of this renewal. After wandering forty years in the desert the oldest of them would have been almost sixty years old.
Since the exact dating of the Exodus is a matter of debate among scholars then this event which occurred 40 years later is also a point of contention. Let it be enough to say this: forty years after the giving of the covenant at Sinai in the eleventh month (as per Deuteronomy 1:3) Moshe began to expound upon the Law to a new generation of Israelites.
The beginning of the book of Deuteronomy describes the location as "in the Aravah opposite Suph, between Paran and Tophel and Lavan and Hazerot and Dizahav." The Aravah is the plain of the Land of Israel which extends south through the Negev desert. Paran and Tophel are at the southern tip of modern day Israel (click the map at right to enlarge it).
If we hearken back to the reason for the covenant given at Sinai we know the purpose of this renewed covenant: it is to reveal G-d's standard for holiness to the world and to establish the priesthood that would serve in the earthly shadow of the heavenly Temple.
The covenant details also remain the same.
The next major covenant spoken of in Scripture is the covenant made in the land of Moav.
Footnotes1. Excerpted from The AmericanHeritage© Dictionary of the English Language, Third Edition © 1996 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Electronic version licensed from INSO Corporation; further reproduction and distribution in accordance with the Copyright Law of the United States. All rights reserved. [back]
2. Jewish Virtual Library. 09-14-2008 at http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/Judaism/mitzvot.html [back]