Israeli Education for the Church: Literary Context

The context of this passage is quite broad. Moses is addressing Israel and teaching them about the law (4:44-26:19).[1] He begins the core of his message reiterating the Ten Commandments given to them by God (5:1-11:32).[2]After expounding on the Ten Commandments, Moses indirectly explains the sinfulness of the people and the holiness of God by describing the events around his intercession.[3] While God’s people are to directly obey not only the Ten Commandments, but also the whole Levitical law, they can simply remember the overarching umbrella command: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.”[4] This general and specific ethic will govern the new generation’s venture into the promised land (6:10-25).[5]

This passage contributes to the whole of Deut. because the people are preparing to enter their land. As mentioned before, Egypt subjected Israel to its reign for 430 years. As a result of this lengthy exile, Egypt’s life and culture slowly inculcated them through their regular interactions for about 15 generations. Surely Israel took counter cultural measures throughout their time—this is evident in the boldness of the midwives in Exod. 1:15-22. However, this span of time is long enough that some of the core convictions—like monotheism and their ethics—would be softened among Israel. In short, Israel’s social imaginary started to change to reflect more of Egypt’s values. They needed to be reeducated, especially as they entered their foreign land. 

This passage contributes to the Pentateuch because of the Israelite’s need to stay in the land. The previous generation—the exodus generation—abandoned God through their continual disobedience. Their disobedience is why they could not enter the promised land. Therefore, for this new generation (and subsequent generations) to succeed in this new land, they needed to learn obedience. Their education was rooted in knowing their God: “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.” In this brief statement, Israel learns that Yahweh is their God and that he is the only one. This knowledge means that as they enter new lands to conquer them, they are not to be taken to other gods for Yahweh is their God—he is the one who redeemed them from Egypt. This is what Moses means when he says God is one—they must possess undivided loyalty to him, unlike the previous generation which grumbled repeatedly and strayed from his law. Moses’s commands are, in a sense, warning this new generation—the inheritors—to take seriously their devotion to God. As noted, the language of “with all” repeats three times. The following nouns all have semantic overlap and communicate through conflation and emphasis that their entire being—their thoughts and actions—are to be oriented towards God’s law. Anything outside of this norm usurps God from his rightful place in their communal life.

  1. Craigie, Deut (NICOT), 146.
  2. Craigie, Deut (NICOT), 146.
  3. Craigie, Deut (NICOT), 164.
  4. Craigie, Deut (NICOT), 167.
  5. Craigie, Deut (NICOT), 171.

This post was originally part of an academic paper submitted to Dr. Justin Young in Pentateuch at Covenant Theological Seminary. It has been modified from its original version.

Categories: Tags: , , , ,