Signing onto God’s contract
Moses calls a meeting1 I’ve just given you the terms of the agreement God told Moses to deliver to the people of Israel. This agreement is in addition to the earlier one, from when you were camped at Mount Sinai. 2 Moses called a meeting of all the people of Israel. Then he spoke to them:
You saw with your own eyes what the LORD did to Pharaoh and his people in Egypt. 3 You saw the punishing trials he put them through and the astonishing signs and miracles he performed. 4 Still, you don’t get it. The LORD hasn’t given you a head for it yet. Your mind can’t fully understand what has happened. Your eyes can’t see it. Your ears can’t hear it. 5 I’ve led you through the desert badlands for 40 years. Look at yourself. You’re still wearing the same clothes and walking in the same sandals you had to begin with. They haven’t worn out. 6 You didn’t need to eat bread during that time. You didn’t drink wine or any other strong drink. That’s so you could see that the LORD is your God. 7 When you arrived in this territory, King Sihon of Heshbon and King Og of Bashan brought their armies to stop you. You stopped them. You defeated their armies. 8 You took their land and gave it to the tribes of Reuben, Gad, and the half-tribe of Manasseh.
It’s time to sign on9 Now it’s time for you to accept the terms of the agreement with God so you can succeed in everything you’re about to do. 10 You’re standing before the LORD your God right now. Every one of you. Tribal leaders. Elders. Officials. All the men of Israel. 11 Children. Wives. People not related to your ancestors, yet who live among you. People who gather firewood for you. People who haul your water. 12 You’re here now to formally sign onto this agreement with the LORD your God. You’ll be swearing to fulfill your obligations that are written into the contract. 13 When you do that, the LORD will formally designate you as his people and he will be your God. He’ll do this, just as he promised your ancestors, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. 14 The LORD isn’t making this agreement with you alone. 15 He’s making it with everyone standing here and with those yet to come, who aren’t with you today.
Take a moment to remember16 You know what it was like to live in Egypt. And you remember our trip through all the nations between here and there. 17 You saw the idols they worshiped—gods made of wood and stone and silver and gold. And you saw the despicable things they did. 18 This agreement you’re making is to keep you from leaving God and worshiping another god. So don’t let any man or woman or family or tribe start worshiping some god from one of the neighboring nations. Don’t let anyone poison this agreement with bitterness toward God.
People who think they’re the exception19 Some people might hear the list of punishing consequences for breaking the contract and think the rules won’t apply to them. They’ll say, “Okay, so I’m a little stubborn about doing things my way. But I’ll do fine.” What they’ll end up doing isn’t fine at all. They’ll kill everything from the green pastures to the desert wastelands. 20 The LORD won’t overlook their disobedience. He won’t forgive those people. Instead, he’ll invoke every penalty clause in the agreement—every painful consequence. The LORD will get flaming mad at those people. He’ll erase them and the memory of them. 21 The LORD will call them out for what they did. He’ll pull them out of their tribes and deal with them. He’ll invoke and apply every consequence recorded in the Law Book.
Israel devastated for generations22 Future generations will see how the LORD destroyed the land. You descendants and foreigners alike will come here from far away. 23 They’ll say, “Wow, this is total devastation. The land is burned up and polluted with salt and sulfur. There’s not a blade of grass growing anywhere. This must be what Sodom and Gomorrah looked like, with their neighboring cities of Admah and Zeboiim. God got so angry with those cities that he wiped them out.”
24 The international community will say, “Why did the LORD do this to the land? What got him that upset?” 25 Others will reply, “It’s because the people who lived there broke their contract with the God of their ancestors. They entered into that contractual agreement when he brought them out of Egypt. 26 But they started worshiping other gods. These are gods they didn’t previously know anything about. And they certainly weren’t gods that the LORD told them to worship. 27 So the LORD’s anger burned up the land. There are painful consequences written into the Law Book for breach of contract. God applied them all. 28 In the end, the LORD evicted them from the land. He was so angry that he threw them clear out of this territory and into another. They’re still there today.” 29 We don’t know everything. The LORD God keeps some things secret, and those secrets belong to him. But we do know something. And we’re responsible for what we know. We and our descendants know the law and have an obligation to follow the teachings in the Law Book.
In the Jewish Bible, this verse shows up at the end of Deuteronomy 28, as verse 69. Scholars can’t agree if it belongs there, as a summary of that chapter and the ones before it, or as an intro into Deuteronomy 29. Moses had just finished explaining the terms of the new contractual agreement between God and the Israelites. Moses reviewed the laws he had taught them years earlier, explaining their responsibility to follow the law. And he told them how God would reward them if they abided by the terms of the agreement. And he explained how God would hold them accountable for breach of contract. Now it’s time for the Israelites to formally agree to the terms or to walk away from a sweet deal.
The original Hebrew name is Horeb, a word that means dry or desolate. Most scholars say it’s an alternate name for Mount Sinai.
The implication is that God provided what the Israelites needed. He fed them with manna and quail and spring water (8:2-4; Exodus 16; Numbers 11).
The cryptic phrase is more literally, “They’ll ruin the moist and the dry alike.” This sounds like a way of describing total destruction, which is what happened when Babylonian invaders overran the southern Jewish nation of Judah in 586 BC, and leveled Jerusalem and the Temple.
“Law Book” probably refers to the laws Moses delivered in his speeches, many scholars say. He reportedly wrote what is now Deuteronomy chapters 1-30 and gave them to the priests for safe keeping (31:9). This may be the long-lost book of Jewish laws that motivated King Josiah (ruled about 640-609 BC) to launch a revival and to destroy idols and shrines in the southern Jewish nation of Judah (2 Kings 22:8). The revival was apparently too little, too late. Babylonian invaders from what is now Iraq leveled Jerusalem and erased the Jewish nation from the political map.
Invaders sometimes spread salt and sulfur onto fields they wanted to kill. It was a way of finishing the job of killing a country and keeping it dead as long as possible.
This is what happened to the northern Jewish nation of Israel, when Assyrian invaders overran the land and deported the survivors in 721 BC. Babylon did the same to the southern Jewish nation of Judah in 586 BC. Some scholars say the description here reads as though it was written or at least influenced by Jews writing from exile after the fall of Jerusalem in 586 BC. Others insist that this isn’t written as history, but as prophecy.
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