Deuteronomy 27-34

Covenant Ratification and Succession: What God Will Do


1. Summary

• Israel must renew her commitment to the covenant on the Plains of Moab and later in the Promised Land.

• Moses set out the blessings of obedience and the curses on disobedience to encourage covenant commitment.

• Moses transferred his authority to Joshua and gave them hope for the future if they learned from the past.

2. Structure

-Ratification (Deut.27:1-30:20)
-Succession (Deut.31:1-34:12)

I. Ratification (27:1-30:20)

A. General Analysis

-Future Ratification in Canaan (Deut.27:1-26)

To be patterned after present ratification

-Present Ratification in Moab (Deut.28:1-30:20)

Blessings (Deut.28:1-14)
Curses (Deut.28:15-29:1)
Appeal for Renewal (Deut.29:2-30:20)[footnote]R Pratt, Lectures on Genesis to Joshua (Orlando: RTS).[/footnote]

B. Detailed Analysis

1. Ratification/Renewal in Canaan (Deut.27:1-26, Josh.8:30-35)

Just as the ancient Near Eastern Suzerain/Vassal treaties used blessings and curses in ratification, so Moses outlined blessings and curses for ratifying the Mosaic Covenant later in Canaan (Deut.27), and now in Moab (Deut.28-30). One of the first things Israel was to do in Canaan was to march to Mount Ebal and Mount Gerizim. There they were to set up two great stones with the law of God written on them. Six tribes were to stand upon Mount Gerizim, to declare blessings upon the people for obedience to this Law, and the other six tribes were to stand upon Mount Ebal, to declare curses upon the people for disobedience. These blessings and curses are listed in detail to enforce the vital importance of obedience and faith. The altar and the sacrifices associated with these events were to teach the people that the ratification of the covenant and the renewal of their commitment to it was based upon atonement.
Moses’ Message: Israel should regularly ratify and renew her covenant obligations.

2. Ratification/Renewal in Moab (Deut.28:1-30:20)

The present ratification and renewal was to be a paradigm for renewal in Canaan. The pattern is similar: prologue (Deut.29:2-16), stipulations (Deut.29:9-18), curses (Deut.29:19-29), blessing (Deut.30:1-10), exhortation (Deut.30:11-19), then witnesses (Deut.30:20)
Like Leviticus 26, Deuteronomy 28 begins with blessing, but the curses that follow are even more numerous than those in Leviticus. These curses form a climax to the whole Pentateuch, urging the Israelites to obey and so escape God’s certain judgment.
The importance of these chapters is emphasized by the prophetic books. Both the major and minor prophets use the language and concepts of Deuteronomy 28-29 to preach to Israel the link between disobedience and the divine curse. The nation broke the terms of the Mosaic Covenant and thereby incurred the wrath of God and the fulfillment of the curses.

Curse Deuteronomy Prophets
Drought and Crop Failure Deut.28:23; 28:38-40 Jer.14:4; Hos.8:7; Hag.1:11; Isa.5:10;
Locusts Deut.28:38,42 Joel 1:4
Disease Deut.28:22,27 Isa.1:6; Jer.8:22; 24:10; Amos 4:10;
Blindness and Confusion of the Mind Deut.28:28 Isa.29:9; 42:19; Ezek.12:2
Invasion and Captivity Deut.28:25, 49, 51-53, 63-68 Amos 5:27; 6:7; Isa.5:26-30; Jer.39, 52
Disgrace Deut.28:37 Jer.15:4; 24:9; 25:9; Isa.43:28; Ezek.5:14-15

Moses’ Message: God will bless the keeping of His general and specific stipulations and curse disobedience to them.

3. Prophecy of history (Deut.30:1ff)

At the very beginning of God’s giving of his law to the people, there is a prediction that really embraces all the rest of the history of the people: their departure from God, their sin, their captivity, their punishment, their suffering, their return, their repentance, God’s promise that he will give them a new heart.
Just as the prophets used the curses and blessings of Deuteronomy as texts in their preaching to disobedient Israel, so they also used the hope of restoration in Deut. 30:1-10 to encourage repentance and return to the Lord.

Blessing Prophets
Renewed fertility Joel.3:18; Jer.31:12; Isa.51:3; Amos 9:13
The eyes of the blind opened Isa.29:18; 35:4-5;
Re-gathering Jer.32:37; Isa.54:1-2
Foreigners attracted to Israel Isa.2:2-4; 55:5

Moses’ Message: God will chastise Israel for disobedience in order to bring her to repentance, renew the covenant, and restore blessings.

C. New Testament Analysis

1. Paul’s use of Deut.30:11-14

The Christian Gospel is the Mosaic gospel.

For Moses describeth the righteousness which is of the law, That the man which doeth those things shall live by them. But the righteousness which is of faith speaketh on this wise, Say not in thine heart, Who shall ascend into heaven? (that is, to bring Christ down from above:) Or, Who shall descend into the deep? (that is, to bring up Christ again from the dead.) But what saith it? The word is nigh thee, even in thy mouth, and in thy heart: that is, the word of faith, which we preach; That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved (Rom.10:5ff).


2. Christ reverses the curse and brings blessing

When Christ ministered on earth He brought about both physical and spiritual healing, and through His death He reversed the ultimate curse that lay upon mankind because of sin. By hanging on the cross He was under God’s curse, for this was true of “anyone who is hung on a tree” (Deut.21:23).

For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse: for it is written, Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them. But that no man is justified by the law in the sight of God, it is evident: for, The just shall live by faith. And the law is not of faith: but, The man that doeth them shall live in them. Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree: That the blessing of Abraham might come on the Gentiles through Jesus Christ; that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith(Gal.3:10-14).

How significant that the altar of sacrifice for burnt offering and for peace offering was to be built upon Mount Ebal, the mountain of cursing (Deut.27:4-7,13-26). It points to the Lord Jesus Christ becoming accursed and replacing the curse upon his people by blessing.[footnote]G Crossley, The Old Testament Explained and Applied (England: Evangelical Press, 2002), 164.[/footnote]


3. Two paths (Deut.30:19; Mat.7:13-14)

The sinner is confronted with the same two paths in the Old and in the New Testament.

I call heaven and earth to record this day against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life, that both thou and thy seed may live (Deut.30:19)

Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it (Matt.7:13-14).


II. Succession (31:1-34:12)

These closing chapters resemble the processes of succession that appear in Suzerain/Vassal treaties

A. General Analysis

-Leadership transferred to Joshua (Deut.31:1-18)
-Moses’ song (Deut.31:19-32:47)
-Moses’ blessing (Deut.32:48-33:29)
-Moses’ death (Deut.34:1-12)

B. Detailed Analysis

1. Moses Song (Deut.31:19-32:47)

In obedience to the Lord’s command (Deut.31:19), Moses summarizes the covenant in song. The form used is very similar to a Covenant Lawsuit. Witnesses are called (Deut.32:1-2), accusations are made (Deut.32:5-6,15-18), and sentence is read out (Deut.32:19-33). Some think that the song was sung as a duet with Joshua before the congregation (Deut.32:44). The song is concluded with a hope for the future (Deut.32:34-43) and an exhortation (Deut.32:47).
As in Deut.31:1-10, this song also surveys the nation’s recent past, looks ahead to future rebellion and exile, and predicts God’s forgiveness and restoration. This chapter which contrasts the faithfulness of the Lord with the faithlessness of the nation had a deep impact on the later prophets.

In fact, Deuteronomy 32 has been called the phrase book for the 7th and 6th Century prophets. In this way the song of Moses served as the Bible for later prophets who preached about Israel’s broken covenant with God.[footnote]B Arnold and B Beyer, Encountering the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1999), 147.[/footnote]

The people were to memorize this song and recite it over and over, to catechize and teach them the vital concept of God’s punishment and saving a remnant of people for himself.
Moses’ Message: Engrave this song in your mind so that you will remember my message when I have gone.

2. Moses’ blessing (Deut.32:48-33:29)

-God praised (Deut.33:1-5)

-Tribes blessed (Deut.33:6-25)

-God praised (Deut.33:26-29)

As a departing Father leaving his children with his blessings, so Moses leaves the children Israel, whom He had led for 40 years, with His blessing. Despite Israel’s repeated failures, God’s people will enjoy rest in the Promised Land.

In the last verse of chapter 33 – the final words of Moses – the great lawgiver ascribes blessing to the nation as a whole: Blessed are you, O Israel! Who is like you, a people saved by the Lord? (v29) Although he had seen the people at their worst, Moses had also seen their God face to face, and because of the greatness of the Lord, Moses knew that ultimately blessing would come upon the chosen people and through them upon the whole world.[footnote]H Wolf, An Introduction to the Old Testament Pentateuch (Chicago: Moody Press, 1991), Electronic Edition[/footnote]

The blessing closes with a declaration of the uniqueness of the God of Israel who is the Source and the Guarantor of every blessing to Israel. Consequently, while several of the verbs might naturally be taken as representing the conquest of the land as already taken place (cf. Authorized Version and Revised Version), it seems proper to see in them examples of what is called the “prophetic perfect,” which describes future events as if they had already taken place.[footnote]O T Allis, God Spake by Moses (Philipsburg: P&R Publishing Co.,1951), 150.[/footnote]

Moses’ Message: God’s blessing is not dependent on my presence but on Israel’s obedience.

3. Transfer of leadership to Joshua

-Moses dies (Deut.34:1-9)
-Moses praised (Deut.34:10-12)
Looking back (continuity)
These closing chapters (31-34) resemble the processes of succession that appear in Suzerain/Vassal treaties. Moses made provision for a smooth transition in covenant administration after his death. The closing words of the book are a fitting epitaph for Moses’ ministry (Deut.34:10-12). Many have used the record of Moses death to argue that the book was not written by Moses. However as G L Archer says:

The closing chapter furnishes only that type of obituary which is often appended to the final work of great men of letters.[footnote]G L Archer, A Survey of Old Testament Introduction (Chicago: Moody Press, 1998), Electronic Edition.[/footnote]

The ground had already been laid for the transfer of leadership from Moses to Joshua. In chapter 31 Moses appears with Joshua at the Tabernacle so that the transfer of power would be publicly witnessed (Deut.31:1-3, 14-23).

There is no resistance in Moses the man of God, no resentment towards the Lord for his judgments. Moses dies, as he has lived, ‘a spiritual giant’. He dies the death of the righteous for, unlike Balaam, he has lived the life of the righteous (see Num.23:10). The attitude of Moses is reflected in the death of Mr Valiant for Truth in John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress. Just as he is about to cross the river he testifies to his friends: ‘I am going to my Father’s, and though with great difficulty I am got hither, yet now I do not repent me of all the trouble I have been at to arrive where I am. My Sword I give to him that shall succeed me in my Pilgrimage, and my Courage and Skill to him that can get it. My marks and scars I carry with me, to be a witness for me, that I have fought His battles, who now will be my Rewarder.[footnote]G Crossley, The Old Testament Explained and Applied (England: Evangelical Press, 2002), 160.[/footnote]

Moses’ Message: Israel must now follow Joshua but never forget Moses.

C. New Testament Analysis

1. God’s wings

As God’s Spirit had hovered over the creation (Gen.1:2) so He hovered over Israel in the wilderness:

He found him in a desert land, and in the waste howling wilderness; he led him about, he instructed him, he kept him as the apple of his eye. As an eagle stirreth up her nest, fluttereth over her young, spreadeth abroad her wings, taketh them, beareth them on her wings (Deut.32:10-11).

So Jesus sought to gather his people beneath his wings:

O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not! (Matt.23:37)


2. The faithfulness of Moses

Hebrews compares and contrasts Moses and the Lord Jesus (Heb. 3:1-6). The inspired conclusion to Moses life is:

And Moses verily was faithful in all his house, as a servant, for a testimony of those things which were to be spoken after; But Christ as a son over his own house; whose house are we, if we hold fast the confidence and the rejoicing of the hope firm unto the end (Heb.3:5-6).


III. The Message

Original Message: Israel must keep renewing her covenant with God and acting upon it
Present Message: The Church must keep renewing her covenant with God and acting upon it