Does the Bible Affirm That Animals Have Rights?

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No, Scripture never specifically grants rights to animals. The Bible doesn’t assume that animals have intrinsic rights, even the right to life. Unlike humans, animals were not created in the image of God. God made humans the pinnacle of His creation, with inherent worth and greater capacities than animals. He appointed humans to subdue and rule over all animals (Gn 1:20–31). God specifically approved the use of animals as food for humans (Gn 9:1–3; Lv 11:2–3). Since animals have lesser value than humans, they shouldn’t be given the rights accorded to human beings, and human life should never be sacrificed to save animal life.

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Yes, the Bible affirms that humans have a moral obligation to treat animals humanely. Although animals are clearly not equal in worth to human beings, they have value since God created them as “good” (Gn 1:20–25). So, as part of our God-given stewardship, we shouldn’t abuse or pointlessly harm animals. Scripture uses the same word to describe the animating force that God gave animals (nephesh, Gn 1:20–21, 24, 30) as it does in describing how He breathed a living soul into persons (Gn 2:7). Unlike animals, human souls have unique capacities: self-awareness, abstract reasoning, an orientation toward the future, freedom, moral responsibility, and the capacity to have a relationship with God. Animal sacrifices presuppose that animals have value (Lv 4–6; Heb 9:11–28). Animal pain is a matter for moral concern because God cares for animals (Gn 7:2–4; Ps 104:10–30; 147:7–9; 148:7–10; Mt 6:26; Lk 12:6–7, 24).

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Although God gave people permission to eat animals after the flood (Gn 9:1–3), this may have been a concession to human sinfulness. Vegetarianism practiced in the Garden of Eden (Gn 1:29–30; 2:16), and the prophecy that natural predators will live together peacefully in the future (Is 11:6–8), suggest that the eating of animal flesh isn’t God’s ideal.

Scripture calls upon humans to treat animals humanely. The Mosaic law forbade the heartless treatment of birds, promising long life to those who don’t abuse animals (Dt 22:6–7). Other regulations were given for the welfare of farm animals (Dt 22:1–4, 10; 25:4). Humane treatment of animals is a characteristic of godly living (Pr 12:10).

Deuteronomy 22:21 Loss of virginity was tantamount to adultery in the case of betrothal, implied here. It was considered nothing short of harlotry, a sin that brought disrepute upon the whole community. Physical whoredom was analogous to spiritual unfaithfulness to the Lord, and was therefore deemed deserving of death (Hs 4:1–19)—as severe as this sanction may appear by today’s “standards.”

Deuteronomy 22:25–27 This situation well illustrates the commonsense approach of biblical law. A woman raped outside a settlement is presumed innocent of consensual sex, as presumably she had protested the assault but was too far away for her cries to be heard. Of course, she could have gone voluntarily to the field to effect a liaison; but in Israelite culture the penalty for such a prearranged encounter, if found out, would normally deter such a plan (v. 21).

Deuteronomy 22:30 The father’s wife, in this case, would be the subject’s foster mother and not his own, considering that incest is covered elsewhere in the Law (Lv 18:7). The stated reason for the prohibition is that, in committing this act, the man is “uncovering his father’s skirt.” That is, he is intruding into an area reserved for his father alone. The law thus protects the authority of the father and teaches filial respect for him.

Deuteronomy 23:1 This apparent discrimination is based on the principle that a physical defect is analogous to spiritual imperfection (cp. Lv 21:16–23). The defect, in this instance, has to do with reproductive capacity, the lack of which was considered to be a curse. Jesus spoke of “eunuchs who have made themselves that way because of the kingdom of heaven” (Mt 19:12), removing the traditional religious stigma from those who lack reproductive capability or who refrain from utilizing it (depending on whether or not one takes His expression in the literal sense). Christianity’s first recorded non-Jewish convert was such a person (Acts 8:26–38).

Deuteronomy 23:2 The exclusion of an illegitimate child from the assembly is related to the previous instructions having to do with irregular sexual matters. The denial of full fellowship has nothing to do with the personal spirituality of the individual; it is the community as a whole that is in view. The prohibition illustrates the uncompromising standards of the Lord affecting how, and under what conditions, persons may enter His presence. Physical traits reflecting what is normal and proper are symbolic of the required spiritual state.

Deuteronomy 23:3 Ammonites and Moabites were barred from the assembly of the Lord because they had failed to provide Israel needed supplies en route to Canaan, and had also tried to curse Israel. Their refusal was especially odious because Ammon and Moab were related to Abraham through Lot (cp. Gn 19:30–38). Additionally, they were children of incest and so fell into the category of the previous verse. The case of Ruth, a Moabite, raises an issue, especially since she became the great-grandmother of King David and an ancestor of Jesus. God sovereignly allows for exceptions to general principles, much as Rahab was an exception in the destruction of Jericho (Jos 6:25). But the exclusion in Dt 23:3 is from “the Lord’s assembly,” not the community in general, and there is no record that Ruth attended any of the annual festival gatherings.

Deuteronomy 23:7–8 Edomites and Egyptians, because of their brotherhood with Israel and hospitality respectively, could enter the assembly but only after the second generation. The point here and in v. 3 is that, though redemption is at the Lord’s initiative and by His grace, privileges such as access to the assembly were determined by how one related to the Lord and to His people.

Deuteronomy 23:13 The proper disposal of excrement and other impurities (vv. 10–11), especially in the context of holy war (as here), relates to the notion of ritual purity and not hygiene in general. Since God is holy—that is, pure—anyone or anything in His presence, indeed the entire camp, must be rendered holy by following proper procedure. This instruction is a reminder that spiritual “refuse” has no place within the community of faith.

Deuteronomy 23:15 The OT never explicitly condemns slavery, but neither does it sanction or justify it. Nevertheless, this directive ameliorates the slave’s condition in a manner unknown elsewhere in the ancient Near East. He must not be returned to his master but can remain with whoever has found him, and must be treated well.

Deuteronomy 23:17 This is not a blanket condemnation of prostitution or homosexuality (though such prohibitions are found elsewhere; cp. Lv 18:22; 20:13) but a prohibition of the kinds of perverse sexual activities that were common in Canaanite religious rites.

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Deuteronomy 23:20 The law clearly allows for treating Israelites differently from foreigners in financial matters. Israelites may not exact interest on loans from their fellow Israelites, but may levy it against others. Discrimination of this kind illustrates at least two themes: (1) Members of the covenant community must not profit from one another’s distress. (2) Being a member of that community entails certain privileges.

Deuteronomy 23:24–25 Lack of a governmental welfare system made it necessary for the poor to have access to essentials for survival. Thus, they might help themselves freely to a neighbor’s crops as they casually walked through their fields. Here it is clear that being poor was not the only qualification for helping one’s self; anyone could pluck grain or grapes as he wished. Under the covenantal principle of corporate solidarity, the community cannot view itself as a mere collection of independent individuals. What one has is, within limits, the property of all.

Deuteronomy 24:1–4 Divorce is never authorized in the OT, though it is permitted (as here). The ideal was for one man to marry one woman for life (cp. 21:15; Gn 2:24). Moses allowed divorce, Jesus said, because of the hardness of people’s hearts (Mt 19:8). As so often in the OT law, the practice of divorce was to be strictly regulated, and remarriage—the real issue here—even more so. To take back a former wife who had married another in the interim would, in effect, make her an adulteress.

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Deuteronomy 24:6 This law manifests a humane quality seldom found in secular law codes of the ancient Near East. To take and keep a millstone as collateral on a loan was to deprive the borrower of what he needed in the preparation of his meals—in other words, for his day-to-day survival.

Deuteronomy 24:9 The harsh treatment of Miriam was a reminder to her, and others, that rebellion against divinely authorized spiritual leadership is, in effect, rebellion against God Himself.

Deuteronomy 24:16 This verse teaches personal responsibility for one’s own sin and its consequences. This seems to contradict passages elsewhere that suggest that the sins of parents have repercussions for many generations to come (cp. 2:34; 5:9). There is a difference, however, between the transmission of guilt and accountability on the one hand, and the aftereffects of sin on the other. For example, David’s children were not held responsible for his adultery and murder, but they paid the price as members of the dysfunctional family his sin produced (2 Sm 12:10).

Deuteronomy 24:19–22 These examples of the care and generosity to be extended to the poor illustrate the elevated ethic of the OT as compared to that of surrounding nations. Those who try to make a case for a “sub-Christian” social attitude in the Law are ignoring texts such as these.

Deuteronomy 25:2 Physical punishment and public humiliation may appear barbaric to the modern “enlightened” mind, but their deterrent effect can hardly be denied. With prisons unavailable, especially for a people on the move, incarceration for crime was virtually non-existent in ancient Israel. This left few options for the application of justice. The criminal who was beaten would not be kept at public expense, and would be able to continue to work to provide for his family.

Deuteronomy 25:3 The leavening of justice with mercy is witness to an OT concern even for persons deserving of punishment. In the ancient world this attitude is virtually unique to the OT. Later Jewish custom restricted the blows to 39, as insurance against miscounting and accidentally administering more than the permitted 40 (2 Co 11:24).

Deuteronomy 25:4 The significance of this apparently trivial instruction is not simply to call attention to the need for humane treatment of animals. It is also an analogy to the human scene. If an ox is to be treated with such consideration, allowed to benefit from the results of its labor, how much more should human beings be so treated. That is certainly the way the apostle Paul took this instruction (1 Co 9:9; 1 Tm 5:18).

Deuteronomy 25:5 The custom described here (the so-called “levirate marriage”) must be understood in terms of a number of qualifications. First, the marriage to a widow was expected but not mandatory (v. 7; Ru 4:5–6). Then, since monogamy was the only sanctioned form of marriage, the surviving brothers must not be married in order to fulfill the obligation. Finally, the purpose was to preserve the deceased brother’s name and by this means to guarantee his ongoing identity (Dt 25:6) in a culture which had, as yet, no view of the resurrection of the dead. The Sadducees (who also had no such belief) tried to trip Jesus up on this question with a fictitious example of the “levirate marriage,” but He saw through their ploy (Mt 22:23–32).

Deuteronomy 25:9 To spit in the face may strike one as repulsive behavior, yet each society has its gestures that would seem crude to people of other cultures. This act of disdain or refusal was (and is) common in Middle Eastern societies and must be judged, as to its propriety, against that cultural environment. The loosening of the sandal suggests that the reluctant brother is abandoning all claim to the widow’s property (cp. Nm 12:14; Ru 4:7–8).

Deuteronomy 25:12 The woman’s harsh punishment is due to the fact that her impetuous act might result in the man’s emasculation, depriving him of the ability to procreate. The result would be the same as that envisioned in vv. 5–10—he would die without progeny, and his name would forever be lost in Israel. As is often the case in OT law, the instruction’s ramifications extend beyond the surface reading of the text.

Deuteronomy 25:16 Even modern moral relativism has not erased the public’s disgust with duplicity or cheating in business practice (vv. 13–15). Dishonest dealings are an abomination to the Lord, as well. Such behavior is not just an abuse of another individual; it impacts the ethical equilibrium of the whole community. To rob one’s neighbor is, in a sense, to rob God, for He is the One who dispenses economic blessing as He sees fit.

Deuteronomy 25:17 The injunction to forgive and forget, while clearly a biblical principle, does not apply in cases where God’s honor or that of His people has been violated without subsequent remorse and repentance. The attack of the Amalekites against the weakest of the Israelites was an attack on the Lord, who cares for just such people (v. 18). Saul’s later failure to carry out the mandate for Amalek’s complete annihilation resulted in the termination of his dynasty (1 Sm 15:26).

Deuteronomy 26:1–11 This section about the presentation of the firstfruits illustrates the biblical pattern of worship, which incorporates the narrative of what God has done for His people. The recitation in Christian worship of the Apostles’ Creed, which is at heart the story of God’s action in Christ, is based on this OT pattern.

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Deuteronomy 26:5 The father referred to here is not Abraham, a native of Ur, but Jacob. He was an Aramean in the sense that he had lived in Aram (Syria) for 20 years, gained a family there, and left for Egypt shortly after he had returned to Canaan.

Deuteronomy 26:9 See note on 11:9.

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Deuteronomy 26:12 The law here is not in conflict with the law that asserts that the tithes are to be given to the Lord (cp. Lv 27:30). That was the general principle, but every third year a tithe must also be given to support the Levites and other dependents. When God’s people give to others they are thereby giving to the Lord as well, a point Jesus made (Mt 10:42).

Deuteronomy 26:19 See notes on 4:34; 7:6.

Deuteronomy 27:2 See note on 1:1.

Deuteronomy 27:3 The instruction to write upon one monument “all the words of this law” has seemed impossible to many critics. However, the size of the stele (inscribed monument) is not mentioned, nor is “law” clearly defined. It is unlikely that the entire Torah is in view, but perhaps the reference is to more than the Ten Commandments. “This law” refers to Dt, Moses’ summary of the Sinai covenant. Though lengthy, it is not much longer than the Code of Hammurabi whose prologue, epilogue, and 282 laws are all inscribed on one stone monument.

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Deuteronomy 27:4 The Samaritan Pentateuch (version of the Torah used by the Samaritan sect) reads Gerizim rather than Ebal, and thereby locates the monument at the place where the Samaritans eventually built a temple. It was there when Jesus spoke to the woman at the well, and it was to Gerizim that the woman pointed when she spoke of her place of worship (Jn 4:20). The Hebrew text preserves the original reading, which the Samaritans altered to justify their practice. Jesus pointed beyond both geographical locations, the Samaritan Gerizim and the Jewish Jerusalem, to the true worship of the Father (Jn 4:21–24).

Deuteronomy 27:5 The command to build an altar of unhewn stones is not at variance with the instructions Moses received about the altar of the tabernacle fashioned of wood and bronze (Ex 27:1–8). That was the altar of the central sanctuary (cp. Dt 12:5), whereas this is an altar of a local shrine. Contrasting with the masonry of Canaanite altars, local Israelite altars were to be built of field stones which preserved the manner in which the Lord, Himself, had shaped them (Ex 20:25; cp. 1 Kg 18:31–32).

Deuteronomy 27:9 The assembly became the people of the Lord that very day, in the sense that they had assembled in order to reaffirm their commitment to Him. This was not their initial relationship with Him, for that had taken place at Sinai (Ex 24:3–8). By renewing the covenant they became the Lord’s people in a new and fresh way; as though they themselves had been present at the original events.

REASONING WITH OTHER RELIGIONS APOLOGETICS

Deuteronomy 27:12–13 Though the mountains are large it is doubtful that all the people of Israel could stand on them at one time. Probably tribal leaders did so on their behalf.

Deuteronomy 27:15–26 The solemn, ceremonial pronouncement of a curse upon those who would disregard the principles of God’s Law is part of Israel’s covenant structure, and illustrates the power of the spoken word in the biblical world view. The curse will take effect, should the instruction be abrogated through unfaithful behavior. It does not require a special act of God to bring about its effect; the disobedient deeds themselves will incur their consequences. The NT also includes some instances of the pronouncement of curse (1 Co 16:22; Gl 1:8–9; cp. Rv 22:18–19).

Deuteronomy 27:16 In the Lord’s structure of authority the parent stood in God’s place; lack of respect for the parent was tantamount to lack of respect for God (see 5:16).

Deuteronomy 27:17 All properties in the promised land were God’s and were allocated to tribes, clans, and families as best suited Him. To encroach on a neighbor’s property is to reveal dissatisfaction with one’s own share, and thus to question the Lord’s wisdom and sovereignty over all of life. It is also comparable to a business deception (25:16). Such self-serving actions violate a person’s solidarity with others who share in the Lord’s covenant, and thus come under the curse.

Deuteronomy 27:20 See note on 22:30.

Deuteronomy 27:21 Besides being intuitively abhorrent, sexual relations with an animal (bestiality) breaks down the division between two of God’s creatures, one of which (mankind) was to rule the other (animals). Such an act (perturbatio naturarum) upsets the creative order and thus evidences dissatisfaction with, and lack of respect for, God’s perfect plan of governance for what He has brought into being.

Deuteronomy 28:1 This verse appears to suggest that Israel’s place of preeminence in God’s program depends on obedience to Him, whereas other texts (cp. 4:34; 7:6; 10:15) make it unconditional. The apparent discrepancy disappears when it is recognized that, though the Lord’s choice of Israel as His covenant partner was an act of His love and grace alone (7:7–8; cp. Hs 11:1), but her ability to be blessed and to prosper in that relationship depended on loyal obedience.

Deuteronomy 28:12 The promise that Israel will lend but not borrow is not in the form of a commandment or prohibition; it is a promise of Israel’s future prosperity through obedience to God, whose blessing will make Israel the envy of the nations of the world.

Deuteronomy 28:15–68 Moses returns to the curse element of the covenant declaration, which is considerably longer than the blessing section. Israel’s obedience was a critical matter, and the consequences of disloyalty to the Lord needed to be clearly spelled out.

Deuteronomy 28:19 The coming in and going out is a figure of speech suggesting the fullness of activity and life. The curse for covenant disobedience will be so severe and comprehensive that it will negatively impact all aspects of national life.

Deuteronomy 28:20 The perishing of Israel must be understood in terms of her removal from the land (as is clear from v. 21), not a final and ultimate annihilation. That would contradict God’s covenant promises elsewhere (Gn 17:7, 13; Ps 105:9–10).

Deuteronomy 28:23 The bronze and iron are metaphors describing the lack of rain and the consequent hardness of the soil respectively. Such figures should not be taken as evidence that the OT as a whole speaks in figurative language. A passage’s context always contains clues that make it clear when figures are being employed.

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Deuteronomy 28:26 The curses listed here and in the following verses are stated in graphic and, no doubt, hyperbolic terms to emphasize the enormity of Israel’s sin and the punishment that must ensue, should she prove unfaithful. These punishments did not all take place, nor did they occur at all times, though the Bible records many examples of their fulfillment. They are representative of the kinds of judgments Israel could expect if she were to be disobedient to God’s covenant.

Deuteronomy 28:30 These curses are, in part, the reversal of what would befall the corrupt Canaanites in Israel’s occupation of the land (30:19). That curses such as these would befall the guilty by no means justifies their propriety, morally or legally. These are not reflections of the character of God, but reveal what can occur when He permits such human actions as instruments of His judgment.

Deuteronomy 28:36 The reference to a king does not prove that Dt was written in the period of the monarchy, as the critical view holds. It affirms prophetically what God had already promised to the patriarchs, that a line of kings would issue from them (Gn 17:6, 16).

Deuteronomy 28:46 An everlasting curse on Israel would appear contrary to the promise elsewhere that Israel would enjoy unending blessing (cp. Gn 17:7, 13; Ps 105:9–10). The Hebrew phrase a.d. ʿolam, however, need not be understood to mean “forever” in the cosmic sense. It can be understood as a “rhetorical Hebraism,” with the sense of “a long period of time.”

Deuteronomy 28:53 The allegation that resorting to cannibalism reflects a primitive ethic not worthy of a “high religion” or a “cultured people” fails to understand that this gruesome practice is hardly being sanctioned here. The point is exactly the opposite; consuming one’s offspring is so out of keeping with civilized behavior that it provides a shocking example of the result of covenant disobedience. In the reign of Jehoram, a faithless king of Israel, an incident of this kind did occur during a famine brought about by siege (2 Kg 6:25–29).

Deuteronomy 28:56 As in the previous examples of horrible cursings, this one is no indicator of ancient Israelite practice. Rather, it underscores the desperation of people when pushed beyond the limits of endurance.

Mosaic Authorship HOW RELIABLE ARE THE GOSPELS

Deuteronomy 28:62 The threat that disobedient Israel will be left few in number does not contradict verses 61 and 63 which appear to teach that the nation will suffer total destruction. The language is that of hyperbole, intentional overstatement designed to drive home a point. The end of verse 63 makes clear that the destruction is removal from the land into exile.

Deuteronomy 28:64 “From one end of the earth to the other” must not be understood in modern terms, that is, worldwide. The idea has to be seen in the historical and geographical context of the time of the text when the known world was essentially the eastern Mediterranean, northern Egypt, and Mesopotamia. Moreover, the Hebrew word ʿerets more properly means “land,” not the “earth” (the globe). In these terms, the curse was fulfilled in the Assyrian and Babylonian exiles.

Deuteronomy 28:68 There is no historical record of Israelites going back to Egypt on a mass scale. The passage is referring to the future exiles, a reverse exodus as it were, that would place God’s people in bondage once more—this time to the Assyrians and Babylonians.

Deuteronomy 29:1 This is a clear statement attesting to Moses’ authorship of Dt.

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Deuteronomy 29:4 The apparent contradiction between this verse, which says the people could not see, and verse 3, which says they did see is easily resolved by recognizing that v. 3 is speaking of physical sight and verse 4 of spiritual insight. It is possible to look without seeing, to hear without listening (cp. Is 6:10; Jn 9:40–41).

Deuteronomy 29:7 King Sihon and King Og did not both encounter Israel in the plains of Moab. In fact, Og did battle with them at Edrei, near the Sea of Galilee (Nm 21:33). “This place,” then, refers to the Transjordan as a whole, an area embracing the territories of both Sihon and Og.

Deuteronomy 29:13 To be established as the people of the Lord, on this occasion, does not mean that Moses purports to be presiding over the initial establishment of the covenant. That had been undertaken 40 years earlier at Sinai (Ex 19:4–8). Deuteronomy as a whole is a covenant renewal document, so what is being done here is a reaffirmation of that relationship.

Deuteronomy 29:15 The ones not there were not absentees from the ceremony but the unborn generations yet to come. The covenant could be made with them, in the sense that Israel as a covenant community consisted of both its ancestors and its descendants. Future generations, as it were, already lived in the loins of Moses’ generation (cp. Heb 7:10). The covenant is not with an aggregate of individuals at any given time, but with an ongoing historical community. The Christian concept of the “communion of saints” reflects this idea.

Mosaic Authorship HOW RELIABLE ARE THE GOSPELS

Deuteronomy 29:20 The reason for the harshness of God’s judgment here is to be found in the nature of the offense being punished, idolatry (v. 18). Such an act was not only intrinsically evil because of the depravity of pagan religions. In the context of the covenant with Yahweh it was nothing short of high treason, the worst of all possible offenses. To worship other “gods” is to deny God His very existence and His sovereignty.

Deuteronomy 29:28 “Where they are today” refers to a future time when Israel would be in exile, not to the time of the speaking or writing of the text. Moses is quoting what people would say later on if Israel abandoned the covenant. These words cannot therefore be used in support of a case for a late date of the book.

Deuteronomy 30:6 Skeptics sometimes consider such ideas as circumcising the heart absurd, since they fail to understand the use of figurative language in religious or theological contexts. The idea here is that, just as physical circumcision identified one as belonging to the Abrahamic covenant, spiritual circumcision would be the hallmark of membership in the new covenant (Gn 17:13–14; cp. Rm 2:28–29).

Deuteronomy 30:19 To call heaven and earth as witnesses is not to suggest that they somehow represent living and sentient beings. This is a literary device (an “apostrophe”) the purpose of which is to provide an element in covenant making, namely, witnesses to the mutual pledges made by each party. God is here swearing to act upon the decisions Israel is required to make. In treaties outside Israel, the “gods” of the partners are invoked as witnesses. Since there is only one true God, He invokes His creation (“the heavens and the earth,” Gn 2:1) as His two witnesses.

Deuteronomy 31:2 Those who question Moses’ life span of 120 years do so on the grounds that such an age is virtually unheard of in modern times. However, one should never gauge the past by the present. God had specially blessed and preserved Moses so that he could accomplish the tasks to which he had been called.

Deuteronomy 31:2 It appears unfair for the Lord to deny Moses access to the promised land for one intemperate outburst (1:37; cp. Nm 20:12). But Moses, the recipient of special privilege, was also charged with special responsibility. To fail to execute his responsibility completely was to cast both himself and his God in a bad light. For that reason, he could not enter the land with the new generation.

Deuteronomy 31:9 This verse clearly attests to the Mosaic authorship of at least Dt, if not the entire Pentateuch. Those who argue that late pre-exilic or even exilic editors inserted statements like this, in order to give a late composition Mosaic authority, do so only on the base of a previous assumption that Moses could not have written these texts. Such unwarranted assumptions may arise from a desire to divest the Pentateuch, and the Bible as a whole, of any moral credibility.

Deuteronomy 31:11 Some have objected that the public reading of the Law would require more time than an assembled crowd could endure. Deuteronomy alone is in view here, and an unhurried reading of this book could be easily done in two and a half hours. Later biblical history records that Ezra “read out of the book of the law of God” to the people in its entirety, over an eight-day period (Neh 8:18). People can do difficult things when they consider them important.

Deuteronomy 31:15 The fact that the Lord appeared in a pillar of cloud does not contradict the idea that no one has seen God at any time (Jn 1:18). The pillar of cloud represents the presence of God (Ex 13:21–22; 14:19, 24; 33:9–10), though His presence is not the “shape” of His person. In that sense whoever saw the cloud saw God Himself. The same is true of the pillar of fire, the burning bush, and other “theophanies” or appearances of the Lord.

Deuteronomy 31:24 Like v. 9, this provides evidence of the Mosaic authorship of the book of Dt. In fact, the reading literally is, “until their completion,” that is, until all the words of the book had been written. There can be no doubt that the intent of the statement is to assert single authorship of the whole.

Deuteronomy 31:28 See note on 30:19.

Deuteronomy 32:1 Here begins a poetic passage sometimes called the “Song of Moses.” On heaven and earth as witnesses, see note on 30:19.

Deuteronomy 32:8 Of a variety of readings it seems best to translate “people of Israel” here. Were the passage a human creation by an Israelite writer alone, its tone would indeed be arrogant. However, the centrality of Israel in the God’s program of world redemption is part of His own plan; Israel’s role is one not of her making but of comes at God’s initiative (Ex 19:4–6; Dt 7:6–11).

Deuteronomy 32:10 This poetic text is not intended to reproduce the actual course of history. God had, in fact, brought His son Israel out of Egypt into the wilderness and had not first found him there (cp. Ex 4:22–23; Hs 11:1). The point is that Israel was helpless in the desert and would surely have perished without divine intervention. The nation was found to be in a needy condition and thus dependent on God’s grace.

Deuteronomy 32:12 The reference to a foreign god is not a tacit admission that such gods exist. Rather, it reflects the pagan viewpoint that their gods had something to do with Israel’s safety in the desert, a misapprehension that Moses is quick to correct.

Deuteronomy 32:13 Neither honey nor oil (olive oil, the kind in view here) comes from rock. Poetry is rich in figures of speech that must be appreciated for what they are. Bees nest in the crevices of cliffs and, as is well known, olive trees grow in stony soils on terraced hillsides. But the figure is not based totally on these facts; it is a symbolic statement of the Lord’s provision for His people in a barren area.

Deuteronomy 32:16 See note on 4:24.

Deuteronomy 32:22 The description of anger this intense raises questions in the minds of some as to the nature of God. How can He be a God of love, mercy, and grace and yet pour out His wrath in such harsh and devastating ways? The answer lies in a full understanding of the character of God, central to which is His holiness. For God to tolerate wickedness would contradict His separation from all that is profane, degenerate and unjust. It would, therefore, cheapen His other attributes, such as dependability and compassion, that are more palatable to the modern mind.

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Deuteronomy 32:26–27 What appears to be a petty and self-serving reaction by the Lord to the taunts and misunderstandings of His enemies must be seen against a human backdrop in which His people Israel take center stage. For God to destroy His covenant nation would open Him and Israel to the charge that He was unreliable. It was His people, not He, that would suffer the brunt of ridicule should it appear that He had abandoned them. Out of concern for them the Lord must keep His word.

Deuteronomy 32:30 This is hyperbole, a deliberate exaggeration designed to show that Israel’s defeat at the hands of much less powerful foes can be explained only as an act of judgment by the Lord because of Israel’s sins. It harks back to the curses of 28:15–68.

Deuteronomy 32:37 The reference to other “gods” is a piece of sarcasm, not an admission that they are real. They are real only to those who imagine they worship them, even apostate Israel. Verse 39 proclaims the truth: there is only one God, the God of Israel (cp. 6:4–5; 32:16).

Deuteronomy 32:40 For God to take an oath is a way of declaring, with a human analogy, that Israel could rely on Him to be true to His word. The ancient gesture of oath taking, still in use today, was to lift the hand. The imagery of the Lord’s raising His hand to pledge His fidelity would be a powerful expression of His reliability (cp. 31:28; 32:1).

Deuteronomy 32:44 The reference to Joshua as Hoshea (Hb text) by no means suggests multiple sources in the composition of Dt. Both names derive from a verb meaning “to save” (Hb yashah) and are used interchangeably (cp. Nm 13:8, 16). Hoshea/Joshua was a common biblical name in is, in fact, equivalent to Jesus in the NT.

Deuteronomy 32:51 Why did God punish Moses so severely for what seems to be a minor offence, his striking the rock at Meribah (Nm 20:11–12)? That incident can be understood two ways. God told Moses to “speak to the rock” (Nm 20:8); instead, he struck it with Aaron’s rod. Alternatively, the words “speak to the rock” can be taken to mean “address the rock,” using the rod (the Hb verb dabar can have that sense); but instead of beating it vigorously Moses only tapped it twice. In either case, Moses had been given an awesome responsibility as God’s chosen leader, and his obedience had to be total. Perhaps this incident is background for Jesus’ statement that “much will be required of everyone who has been given much” (Lk 12:48), and James’ admonition, “Not many should become teachers, my brothers, knowing that we will receive a stricter judgment” (Jms 3:1).

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Deuteronomy 33:1 The reference to Moses’ death has raised questions about his authorship of at least this passage. It is possible that someone else (Joshua has often been suggested) inserted this verse, but this need not imply different authorship for the rest of the chapter. Since Moses had just been told again that he would soon die (32:48–50), it would not be surprising if he made reference to that fact even as he introduced his final address.

Deuteronomy 33:2 Again Moses speaks poetically in what is sometimes called the “Blessing of Moses,” and one need not expect places and events to conform to normal chronological and geographical sequence. Sinai, Seir, and Paran were places where the Lord manifested His power and glory (Nm 10:12; 13:3, 26). In this context of holy war what matters is not a strict adherence to an itinerary but attention to God’s mighty acts on behalf of His people.

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Deuteronomy 33:6 Historically Reuben disappeared as a tribal entity, though no doubt it was absorbed into other Transjordanian peoples and continued to live through them. On the other hand, these are blessings and not necessarily solid promises. The hope is that Reuben, despite the curse pronounced on him by his father Jacob (Gn 49:2–4), might survive after all even if only few in number.

Deuteronomy 33:9 What seems like insensitivity toward other Israelites on the part of the tribe of Levi is only so in comparison to the Levites’ zeal for the Lord (cp. Ex 32:27–29) and the worship of the sanctuary. Moses’ expression has nothing to do with ordinary and expected behavior of an individual toward his or her loved ones. The same thought occurs in Jesus’ teaching that unless one leaves his family for the sake of the gospel, he is an unworthy disciple (Mt 10:37–38).

Deuteronomy 33:16 On how God “appeared” in the bush, see note on 31:15.

Deuteronomy 33:17 The figures here (“ten thousands” and “thousands”) is not a population estimate or a claim that Ephraim was 10 times greater than Manasseh. Hebrew poetry employs parallelism, a device in which the second line of a couplet (as here) matches the first, or at least approximates it. Since there is no synonym for “ten thousands,” the word for “thousands” was chosen to parallel it. The same parallel appears in the victory song of the women of Israel, crediting Saul with thousands and David with tens of thousands (1 Sm 18:7–8), but the jealous Saul chose to take it in the wrong way.

Deuteronomy 33:19 Critics have noted that the promise that Zebulun and Issachar would offer sacrifices on a certain mountain appears to contradict the clear commandment of 12:5 and elsewhere that worship be carried out in only one place, namely, where the Lord placed His holy name. However, the latter pertains to worship by the nation as a whole. Worship at local shrines by villages and even individuals was allowed (cp. 1 Sm 9:11–14; 1 Kg 18:30).

Deuteronomy 33:21 When the tribes of Reuben, Gad, and part of Manasseh asked Moses for permission to settle in the Transjordan (Nm 32:1–5) they did so because they found the land there to be most suitable to their pastoral life style. That the Gadites wanted the best for themselves is not sanctioned here, but neither is it condemned. The Bible often records events or actions simply because they occurred, even where those things might cast aspersions on the people involved. This realistic recording of events is a token of the Bible’s reliability as a historical record.

Deuteronomy 33:26–27 Jeshurun is a fond name for Israel. God’s command to destroy the enemy does not reflect a sub-Christian and primitive ethic, as some assert. In the OT context of holy war, as well as in the NT picture of the vindication of God’s people in the final outworking of God’s purpose (esp. the Revelation to John), it is essential that God’s holiness (and that of His people) be upheld in the face of whatever would detract from it. Those who will not repent and believe in the one true God must expect nothing but certain destruction (cp. Ps 9:16–17).

Deuteronomy 33:29 To tread on the back of an enemy is figurative language to express his complete and total submission (Hab 3:19). While this is not always to be taken literally, there are examples in the OT of a conqueror placing his foot on the neck of a defeated foe (Jos 10:24).

Deuteronomy 34:1–2 The reference to the territory of Dan and the other tribes appears to be anachronistic for the time of Moses and therefore indicative of a later time of composition. The place name Dan may be a later editor’s substitution for the city’s original name (perhaps Laish; cp. Gn 14:14; Jdg 18:29), but this is by no means is evidence that someone other than Moses composed the greater part of this narrative.

Deuteronomy 34:5–12 The common critical view that Moses could not have written Dt because it records his own death carries no weight, except in the case of the last eight verses of the book. Someone else (Joshua, according to the Talmud) could have appended the account of Moses’ death without undermining the tradition of Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch. If one accepts the biblical role of the prophet as including the gift to discern events to come, Moses could even have composed his own obituary.

Deuteronomy 34:6 The phrase “to this day” suggests a reflection back on an event from a later perspective. As with the account of Moses’ death in general, there is good reason to believe that Joshua or someone else wrote these words, perhaps as much as 40 or 50 years later.

Deuteronomy 34:7 The great age of Moses at his death has been a problem for critics who think in uniformitarian terms; that is that phenomena we observe today are as they have always been. How is it that his lifespan should exceed that of others of his generation (if that is the case), and how likely is it that it was divided into three segments of 40 years each (cp. 31:2; Acts 7:23, 30)? Were life and history governed solely by chance or by human machination, such things would be incredible. But if God’s activity is brought into the equation, nothing remains beyond belief.

Deuteronomy 34:10 Like the phrase “to this day” in verse 6, the statement that “no prophet has arisen again in Israel like Moses” suggests, to some, a post-Mosaic source—indeed, one from a considerably later time. Incidental glosses (editorial adjustments and insertions), such as this might be, do not overthrow the ancient tradition of Moses as the inspired composer of the Torah. The phrase in question, in fact, is a biblical idiom for something of great significance; to say that a person or event is unlike anything before or after it is a way of stressing their gravity (cp. Ex 10:14; Ezk 16:16; Mt 24:21). Use of the expression here need not be an indication of a later perspective. But Moses, indeed, has no equal in later biblical history except for Jesus Christ, who was more than a prophet. Of all figures in Scripture, it is Moses who is mentioned together with Christ in the worship of the Revelation to John, “The song of God’s servant Moses, and the song of the Lamb” (Rv 15:3).

Deuteronomy 34:10 To know God face to face is not in conflict with the idea that no one can look on the Lord’s face and live (Ex 33:20). This is an idiomatic expression of intimate relationship, having nothing to do with the physical face (cp. Nm 12:8).

By Steve W. Lemke

The Apologetics Study Bible: Real Questions, Straight Answers, Stronger Faith, ed. Ted Cabal et al. (Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers, 2007)

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