Saturday, March 16, 2013

Bible Commentary - Deuteronomy 34

This has been a long time coming, but finally we have reached the last chapter of the Pentateuch, where Moses goes up, sees the land and dies.

This is a very short chapter, so I probably won't have too much to say.  We have known for some time that Moses would die before reaching the promised land, just as his brother Aaron died back in Num 20.  Like Aaron, Moses is taken up to the top of a mountain and dies.  He is shown "all the land", which is supernatural in the sense that all Israel would not be visible from any one location on earth due to the curvature of the surface.  We also see that Moses is in full health, showing supernatural fitness and preservation similar to the preservation of clothing and shoes that we saw in Deut 8:4 and also similar to the extended lives of Caleb and Joshua.

One minor textual note is that Moses didn't write this chapter, as should be obvious.  This does not disprove Mosaic authorship of the rest of the Pentateuch, because this chapter could have easily been a later addition. Either way, it does not interrupt or significantly alter the flow of the text or the storyline.  If it represents a change in authorship, it is nevertheless largely consistent.

Lastly, I think this chapter is mainly a transitional chapter.  It occurs at the end of the Pentateuch (which is called the book of Moses for a reason; so much of it is about or written by Moses).  However, the last four verses are all about validating Joshua and establishing his role, which is developed much more fully in the next book, the book of Joshua.  This isn't the first time Joshua has been validated; there are several places where either the LORD or Moses have blessed or authorized Joshua in some way (examples: Num 27, Deut 1, Deut 3, Deut 31, etc.).

So it's not significant for that reason, but it's significant because of its placement at the very end of the book.  In many ways, the Pentateuch is tied together into a single whole.  The history, writing style and themes of the Pentateuch tie the five books together very closely.  In the Jewish tradition, the Pentateuch is treated essentially as a collection and almost a single work.

From this chapter, we can see that Joshua is very closely tied to the Pentateuch as well.  This chapter emphasizes the transition from Moses to Joshua, but in my introduction to Deuteronomy I pointed out that the entire book of Deuteronomy is occurring on the eve of the invasion of the promised land, which happens in the book of Joshua.  This is the most significant way that Joshua is tied into the Pentateuch, because the story in the Pentateuch is simply not complete without Joshua.  This leads some scholars to coin the term "Hexateuch", to described the joint construction of the Pentateuch plus Joshua.

Whether Joshua was written at the same time as the Pentateuch, everything in the covenant and in the history of Israel are pointing towards their future conquest of the promised land.  It's why they were brought here, and soon it will come to pass.

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