The Bible Educator

Edited by the Rev. E. H. Plumptree, M.A.,

The Pentateuch.


By The Very Rev. E. Payne Smith, D.D., Dean of Canterbury.

THE fifth book of the Pentateuch is called Deuteronomy, The Repetition of the Law, and is sometimes so styled by the Jews themselves, who understand by the words of chap. xvii. 18, rendered in our version " a copy of this Law," the Book of Deuteronomy itself, the Hebrew literally signifying a duplicate, or second publication of anything. Our translation is probably the right one; but it was a common view of the fathers, founded upon the words of Ezek. xx. 11, 25, that God first gave the Israelites, at Mount Sinai, a spiritual law, of which the Ten Commandments were the central portion; and that it was only upon their constant violation of every moral precept, coupled with the neglect 0(f the Sabbath day, that the burdensome ceremonial of sacrifices and legal purifications and festivals was added, partly as a punishment, but chiefly because they wore not capable of anything better than this veiled teaching, in which the spiritual meaning was wrapped up in a cover of type and mysticism. This view is, no doubt, an exaggerated one, though certainly much of the Law was so arranged as to suit the low moral state of the people on leaving Egypt. It was afterwards the work of the prophets to disclose gradually its deeper and more spiritual signification, that so it might be the schoolmaster gradually leading on the mind of the nation, till, having outgrown its nonage, it was fit in its maturity to receive Christ.

Undeniably, however, the Book of Deuteronomy does give us the Law under a sublimer aspect than we find it in the Book of Leviticus, and so is a return to the form under which it was given at Sinai. While recapitulating the chief enactments relating to their religious and social life, and in many particulars adapting them more closely to the state of things about to be established in Palestine, it yet dwells with peculiar force upon the worship duo to Jehovah himself. It is their God whom Moses sets before them as the centre of their love and reverence; vividly he portrays the awful contrast between their fate if they neglect Him, 4iud the blessedness they will find in His service. It seems as if invigorated by the sight of the Land of Promise, now opening to his view, and warmed with admiration for the band of manly warriors, who-se character he had formed during the thirty-eight long years of their tedious halt at Kadesh; solemnised, moreover, by the thought that Ids share in their high enterprise was over, and that he must die before the dividing line of Jordan was crossed, he gathered all his force together, and from the fullness of his heart spake the glowing words of patriotism and holy zeal which so distinguish this book.

Its ordinary title among the Jews, " These are the Words," not inaptly describes its contents, for it mainly consists of three addresses made to the people encamped on the Arabah, opposite Jericho. These occupy the first thirty chapters: next Moses solemnly appoints his successor (chap, xxxi.), utters his last psalm (chap. xxxii.), formally blesses the tribes (chap. xxxiii.), and dies (chap, xxxiv.). It is exceedingly probable that Joshua, after the conquest of Canaan, gathered these records together, and himself added to them the account of the great lawgiver's death, excepting the last four verses. In them we have the solemn verdict of Ezra and the men of the Great Synagogue, as to the character and rank of Moses. In the grand roll of prophets who had ennobled their nation, not even an Elijah or an Isaiah had equaled the great "servant of Jehovah," with whom God had spoken face to face. When the canon of Holy Scripture closed, the words of Moses in Dent. xviii. 15, 18 were, according to their deliberate judgment, still unfulfilled.

As regards the authenticity of the book, we are at once struck by the remarkable discrepancy in the views of those who assail it. While many critics stoutly assert that it belongs to the ago of Samuel, and others that it was the book which made so great an impression upon the mind of King Josiah, and which was not found by the high priest, Hilkiah, but forged, as they affirm, by him with the aid perhaps of the prophet Jeremiah (see 2 Kings xxii. 8); other critics of at least equal authority, and with more show of reason, affirm that Deuteronomy is really the ancient book, and contains a far less elaborate ritual than that found in Exodus and Leviticus. Whether we regard the simpler form of the legislation, they say, or the more primitive and less developed sacrificial system, Deuteronomy is plainly the antique foundation upon which later hands have built the burdensome but complete sacrificial system in use long ages afterwards in the Temple.

Both sides maintain their views with great strength of assertion, but it plainly results from their discrepancy that there is no force in the arguments brought against the Mosaical authorship of Deuteronomy from its style. There is, no doubt, a difference of style, but just such as was to be expected. In the previous books we have usually brief contemporaneous records, notes merely, and memoranda, the materials, as I have called them, of history, and not a finished history itself. Yet often the great power of the writer breaks out, as in the song of victory on the shores of the Red Sea. So again the episode of Balaam, digested into shape from the rumours which had reached the camp, or from records, it may be, captured after the battle in which Balaam was slain, is vigorous and spirited in the highest degree. In Deuteronomy we have no longer rough notes, but three formal addresses, spoken to the people flushed with victory, and eager to enter upon their career of conquest. It was a noble occasion, and a solemn one, for the speaker, like the fabled dying swan, was chanting his death-notes. Who would not rise to grandeur under circumstances so inspiriting? For thirty-eight years the lawgiver had toiled to wipe away the reproach of failure and the shame of defeat from the people whom he had led away from their old homes. And now victory was at hand. Already they had coped with the tall warriors of Sihon and Og, and had prevailed. And soon the Laud of Promise would be theirs, though his eyes must never see them in possession. Naturally, then, his language is richer, more spirited and rhetorical, than when he was chronicling laws, or the too often distressing facts of their history in the wilderness.

No doubt such a composition, even with the aid of a skilled amanuensis like Joshua, was a wonderful effort for an old man verging on his hundred and twentieth year. But the testimony borne of him by his contemporaries was that his eye had not grown dim, nor his natural force abated (Dent, xxxiv. 7). Excepting the eventful episode of his visit to Egypt preparatory to the exodus, he had dwelt for eighty years in the wilderness, leading a simple life, and nourished by plain faro, such as was calculated to maintain body and mind in full possession of their powers. And now for the last time those powers burnt up brightly and clearly, and then another took his place, and led the hosts of Israel to victory.

But if there is no ground for doubting the authenticity of the Book of Deuteronomy because of its style, why has it been so attacked?. The answer is simply that the whole Bible has now for many years been undergoing a course of what is called " subjective criticism." The meaning of this is, that each book is examined as to its contents and internal scope. Does it agree with the age and character of the author, and answer in all respects to what we should have expected beforehand? Now, as regards this book, there is largo opportunity for such an examination; for we know a great deal about Moses, and we have three other books written by him, to say nothing of Genesis, of which he arranged the contents. Are the facts the same as in those three other books? Does the writer use much the same words and forms of expression? Nov plainly such a style of argument is quite fair, but has its own dangers. If we found in Deuteronomy things plainly inconsistent with the previous history, and a style of writing quite unlike that used before, we must then, abandon our belief in the Mosaic authorship either of the earlier books or of this.

But there are also great dangers in this style of argument, for it elevates the arbitrary notions of the critic into an absolute rule by which to judge. Now we know that the realities of life seldom or never do agree with our preconceived notions; and a very moderate amount of external evidence entirely oversets all such theories. It is often said that fact is stranger than fiction, because a writer of fiction must keep within the bounds of probability; while in real life most improbable things daily happen. External evidence, then, after all, is the most important, though there is fair room, and its own use, for this close examination of the contents of every book of Scripture, if it be not pushed to an extreme. The late Archbishop Whately once wrote an anonymous pamphlet called "Historic Doubts as to the Existence of Napoleon Buonaparte." In it he ignored all external evidence, and confined himself to internal and subjective considerations, with such success that he has made out a far stronger case against the existence of Buonaparte than any critic has succeeded in doing against that of Moses or of our Lord. So convincing is this amusing book, that one gentleman on reading it said, with a sigh, " Well, till now I had always believed that there had been such a person as Buonaparte." If you neglect external evidence, there is nothing against which a clever writer may not produce very strong arguments. The two modes of reasoning must go together, and mere difficulties, especially when the subjects of criticism are so very ancient as that before us, go for very little. Our knowledge of the days of Moses is so very limited that a child may ask questions which no scholar can answer; and that simply because we have not the necessary information.

Now let us turn to the external or objective criticism for a few minutes, and what do we find? The Pentateuch certainly comes down to us as the great national code, regarded with such entire veneration, that the rest of the Hebrew Scriptures was considered by the Jews as only of secondary authority, or, as by the Sadducees, was not received at all. When did this veneration begin? How did the Pentateuch win its way to this universal acceptance? On turning back to the history we find that there was, first, a long period of anarchy; that then the two warriors, Saul and David, established a vast military monarchy, followed by one peaceful and magnificent reign. And then came a disruption, and the military empire was broken up into two petty states, constantly struggling with one another, and able at most to maintain only a precarious existence in the face of the larger powers of Egypt and Mesopotamia. We know, too, that the founder of one of these kingdoms did his best to wean his subjects from the worship established at Jerusalem. Was the Pentateuch then in existence, and the worship at Jerusalem regulated by it?

Now we may feel quite sure that if the Pentateuch had not existed thou, and been received by the nation as authoritative, it would never have found its way afterwards into the ten tribes. Jeroboam did his best to get rid of it, and set up instead the worship of the sun, as symbolised by the bull, Apis, with whose rites he had become familiar in Egypt. Observe, then, that two of the earliest prophets, Hosea and Amos, belong to Israel; the former entirely so; the latter, though of the tribe of Judah, was yet sent on a special mission to Israel, and his prophecy is confined to an account of that mission. Now, in the most incidental way, and in the compass of two very short books, these prophets bear witness to the existence among the. ten tribes of every peculiarity of the law of Moses. The three great festivals, the new moons and sabbaths, the solemn assemblies, the sacrifices of every kind, the daily offering. the burnt and meat offerings, peace offerings, free-will and sin offerings — all still existed; and, what was scarcely to be expected, they even paid the tithes of the third year (Amos iv. 4). The prophet Amos mentions many minuter points of the law as still practised among thorn. The thanksgiving cakes were leavened (chap. iv. 5; Lev. vii. 13), this being the only case in which Moses had allowed leaven to be used in God's service. The blood of their victims was dashed upon the altar, as prescribed in Leviticus, and the altar had horns, which in the appointed sacrifices were touched with the blood. And, not to mention too many instances, they had the peculiar bowl called mizrak, the " pourer " (see " Leviticus," p. 131) used for receiving the blood in large (quantities; and Amos (vi. 6) accuses the rich of drinking wine in them, having, we must suppose, first plundered them from holy places, and then desecrated them by using them at their feasts.

To make the argument complete, there are in Amos many verbal references to Deuteronomy. The impenitence of Israel is described under the image of the two bitter plants, gall and wormwood (Amos vi. 12), as in Deuteronomy (xxix. 18), the words in the Hebrew being the same, though differently translated in our version. So the remarkable expression "blasting and mildew" is found only in Amos (iv. 9) and Deuteronomy (xxviii. 22), and in the prayer of Solomon, and in Haggai, in passages plainly modelled upon these two texts. No one can compare the threat about the building of houses for others to inhabit, in Amos v. 11, with the corresponding words of Deut, xxviii. 30, 39, without feeling that the denunciations of Moses were present to the prophet's mind. It would be tedious to mention the numerous other reminiscences, which not only prove that Amos was familiar with the Book of Deuteronomy, but that he expected his hearers to be so equally with himself. If we add the consideration that Amos was not educated in the schools of the prophets, but was a herdsman, adding to his scanty income by puncturing sycamore fruit, which is said not to ripen unless irritated by artificial means (vii. 14), we cannot but come to the conclusion that a knowledge of the Books of Moses was very general in his days, long before Jeremiah was born, and that the law of Moses had been received by the whole nation previously to the disruption.

Now, as no one doubts the authenticity of the prophecies of Hosea and Amos, the argument is narrowed down to this. We are told that David arranged the Temple ministrations, with the orders of the priests, Levites, and porters, and established a choral service (1 Chron. xxiii. - xxvi.). Had Samuel imposed upon him writings of his own as those of Moses, and had David influence enough to establish them so thoroughly that when the great house of Joseph, under Jeroboam, threw off the hated yoke of Judah, these institutions were still cherished by the Ephraimites as the genuine property of all Israel?

But if so, how came the Levites to have no landed possessions except a few towns with their suburbs? For this would be settled when the land was divided. If, too, there is anything certain, it is that there was a sanctuary containing the ark at Shiloh, in the tribe of Ephraim, and that Samuel was brought up there, and that David copied the dimensions of that sanctuary in his plan for the Temple, only doubling the quantities. How came this sanctuary there, and how came Eli, a descendant of Aaron, to be high priest in it? Evidently Samuel was not the founder, though probably he was the reformer of the institutions under which the tribes lived. But the question will best be settled by the Book of Judges; for so great is the acknowledged agreement between the Books of Joshua and Deuteronomy that our opponents are driven to affirm that large portions of Joshua had the Deuteronomist for their author. Confessedly Deuteronomy was written before the Book of Joshua.

Now the Book of Judges gives us not merely a picture of the most distressing anarchy, but also of abominable licentiousness. The mass of the people have utterly fallen from the high moral standard to which they had been raised by Moses. Never again did the nation sink so low, and the narratives of which this book is composed could only have been written at the time, and by men who valued truth above national reputation. We can quite imagine these truthful descriptions urging a wise and thoughtful man like Samuel forward in the path of reform, and in the patriotic endeavour to rebuild the fallen institutions of Moses. Now, omitting the two last episodes contained in chaps, xvii. — xxi., for the same reason for which we omit Joshua, what do we find in this book? There is no central government; the priesthood exercises little influence; after the first chapter Judah retires to its fastnesses, and only appears again to advise Samson to yield himself to the Philistines. But here and there rough warriors spring up, who fight the battles of the nation and maintain its independence. There is little scope, then, for details, and yet the facts we would would be impossible to explain but for the Pentateuch. The people are living as settlers and conquerors mixed with hostile natives; the latter generally possess the towns, while the Israelites are encamped as large landholders over the country. It is these towns which are the fruitful source of moral corruption, while the landholders retain the impress of the master mind of Moses, and one especially, Gideon, shows all the theocratic feelings of the great lawgiver, and uses language worthy of Moses himself (Judg. viii. 23).

No one certainly would venture to assert that anything new was added to the institutions of Israel during this miserable time. It is a time when things were fast falling to pieces, yet at the end of it we find the Levites separate from the rest of the nation, a tribe without inheritance, highest in rank, and poorest in money. We find the tabernacle at Shiloh the centre of the nation's worship, and Aaron's descendants ministering there; while in the book itself Samson is a Nazarite according to the rules in Numb, vi., and Jephthah's daughter cherishes those Messianic hopes which Moses had instilled into the people's minds. In short, where the documents are so brief, and our knowledge so limited, it is easy to suggest difficulties and construct plausible theories as to the date and authorship of any and every ancient book; but these theories on closer examination fade away, and are found to involve far greater improbabilities than the statements which have come down to us from the Jews, with all the weight of the evidence which they, with fuller knowledge, could bear to their authenticity.

But what are the difficulties which have driven men to these theories? The first is that in the account of the appointment of the judges in Deut. i. 6 - 18, Moses puts it after the departure from Horeb, whereas in Exod. xviii. we find that it occurred while they wore encamped there. We answer, that though Moses had mentioned the departure from Horeb in verse 6, and now says, "At that time," plainly his reference was general; for in verse 19 he recurs again to the departure from Horeb as subsequent to this narrative.

Again in verse 22 it is said that the people urged Moses to send the spies, whereas, in Numb. xiii. 2, Jehovah is said to have commanded it. But the explanation is obvious. Though urged by the people, Moses did not send the spies, till God gave the command. In so brief a history much must be omitted, but Moses might now well remind the people of the additional fact of their share in sending the spies when it had ended so discreditably.

Again in verse 44 we read of the Amorites who dwelt in the mountain: whereas in Numb. xiv. 43 - 45 they are described as Amalokites. But this is an en-or on the part of our assailants. For in Numbers there is mention also made of Canaanites as present with the Amalekites when Israel was smitten at Zephath, and these are now correctly styled Amorites, their specific name being put instead of their general name. So any English writer might describe Loudon at one time as the metropolis of Great Britain, and at another as that of England.

Other similar so-called discrepancies have been explained with equal facility by Hengstenberg. And in fact there is only one which has caused any real difficulty. In Numb, xxxiii. 30 - 36, the route given seems different from that in Numb. xx. 22; Deut. x. 6, 7; moreover, in Deuteronomy Aaron is made to die at Mosera, and in Numbers on Mount Hor. But the attentive reader of the article upon the Book of Numbers will at once solve the riddle. The stations mentioned in chap, xxxiii. 30 - 36 are those of the march northward up the Arabah in the second year after the Exodus. Thou came the defeat at Zephath, and the thirty-eight years' sojourn at Kadesh. Then in the fortieth year the Israelites march backward down the Arabah, and hence the inverted order of the stations in Deut. x. 6, 7. At Mosera the army halted, while Aaron and Moses went to Mount Hor m its immediate neighbourhood, and there the former died. It was not till they had reached the southernmost limit of Edom, that the Israelites struck eastward, and began their journey round the territories of that state and of Moab.

Minute criticism has failed, therefore, in substantiating any serious discrepancies between the statements in Deuteronomy and in the other books of Moses. But by calling attention to these minute points it has made us more thoroughly understand facts of the history which previously had not been sufficiently attended to. Leaving then these criticisms, lot us now give a cursory glance at the contents of the book itself.

The first address (chap. i. 6 - iv. 40) was spoken in the Arabah on the eastern side of the Jordan. Our version unfortunately speaks of this place as " over against the Red Sea" (chap. i. 1), putting, however, the word "sea" in italics to denote that it is not in the Hebrew text. Really it is over against Suph, the high mountain land on the west of the Dead Sea, where the Israelites had been defeated, and of which the capita! was Zephath.1 The address generally is of a hortatory character, reminding the people of their continual rebellions against God, and of His goodness and mercy towards them. In reading it now the effect is very much marred by the numerous notes inserted into it at its revision probably by Ezra. Much curious information about the Emim and Anakim, and Horim, Rephaim (rendered " giants"), Avim, and Zamzummim, which would at the present day be at the foot of the page, is thrust into the text. In the time of Moses such information would not have been needed, nor the notice that "the Sidonians called Hermon Sirion, but the Amorites Shenir" (iii. 9). At the return from Babylon such matters would have had great interest, and we must remember that if an explanation was to be given at all it must be given in the body of the text. Parchment was far too dear to allow of a wide margin for annotations. It was the want of a cheap writing material which in old time compelled scribes to resort to those many compendious ways which so limit the information given us in ancient books. As soon as paper was invented, printing soon followed. But we ought to remember that the Bible comes down to us from times so remote, that both writing was a rare art, and writing materials difficult to procure. We need not wonder, therefore, if Ezra, the learned scribe, inserted his many elucidations of Holy Scripture among its very words.

The second and longest address, extending over chaps. v. - xxvi., is a practical exposition of the whole law. Having laid down the Ten Commandments as the basis of human morality, Moses next takes the first table, and deduces from it the leading principles which are to regulate our conduct towards God. At the beginning of chap. xii. he considers man in his political and social relations, and completes the legislation of the previous books by the addition of many special regulations, and the application of many of the older enactments to their altered circumstances. And this certainly is remarkable that so many of those older regulations should have been fit only for the life in the desert, and have to be changed to adapt them to their peaceful settlement in Canaan. Lastly, in his third address (chaps, xxvii. — xxx.), he solemnly renews the covenant, sets before them the blessings and the curses which will follow upon obedience and disobedience, and requires them when they have passed the Jordan to inscribe the words of the Law on great stones covered with plaster, to he sot up on Mounts Ebal and Gerizim; and there, after au altar had been built, and peace-offerings sacrificed, and a solemn feast held before Jehovah, they were solemnly to recite these blessings and curses before all the people grouped in equal divisions on these hills.

In chap. xxxi. we have an account of various arrangements made by Moses preparatory to his death. These especially referred to the charge of the Law, a copy of which he wrote out, and formally delivered to the Levites, who were to deposit it by the side of the ark, and take care that every seven years it was publicly read to the people. The manner of the narrative makes it probable that Joshua was the actual penman of this chapter, which contains also his own formal appointment to the chieftainship of Israel. It is noteworthy that until the days of Ezra This command to read the Law in the hearing of the people was not observed. Had the wise regulations of the great founder of Israel been obeyed, the history of the nation would have been far different from what it actually was. It is but too evident that the priests and Legates did not take that place m the training of the nation which Moses had expected. They were to have been its guides and instructors, but proved unworthy, and God raised up the prophets in their stead.

And Moses foresaw the evil days likely to come upon Israel, and wrote, therefore, a song (chap, xxxii.), intended first to be rehearsed in the hearing of the congregation, and then to be committed to memory, and so handed down from generation to generation. Where books do not exist, and knowledge is rare, such compositions have a value far exceeding what they would have in our times, and then- metrical form makes their retention by the memory more easy. The song itself takes the highest rank in Hebrew poetry, and forms the very foundation of all future prophecy. Antique and rugged in style, full of pregnant metaphors, earnest in its teachings, impassioned in its warnings, yet always careful in its rhythm so as to fasten easily on the memory, while it fascinated the imagination, it was well calculated to be a safeguard against apostasy from Jehovah's service, and a constant reminder that they were his special people.

It was a composition that probably had long occupied the prophet's thoughts at Kadesh. The past history of the people suggested only too probably their future disobedience. But Moses does not part with them in strains of such melancholy import. There is a tone of happier augury in his farewell blessings (chap, xxxiii.). In the benedictions of the tribes there is neither warning nor reproof, and they are described rather as what they might have been had they faithfully served the Lord, than as what they actually became. The song and the blessing, therefore, are mutually necessarily to one another, and combine in setting before the people the alternative of happiness or punishment, according to their deserts.

This blessing modifies, and often even reverses in a remarkable manner the predictions with which Jacob had taken his farewell of the patriarchs. The scattering of Levi denounced by the one as a punishment is changed by the other into honour and reward, while Simeon, the sharer of Lead's cruelty, is entirely passed over as unworthy of notice. So can repentance ever change the Divine chastisements into mercies, while continuance in sin ends in total ruin. Simeon did soon cease to be one of the tribes of Israel. Settled on the southern confines of the laud, it became absorbed into the migratory tribes which roved over the Arabian desert. Most remarkable, too, is it that while Jacob had given the sceptre to Judah, as occupying the place of the first-born, Ephraim is evidently the leading tribe in the eyes of Moses. It was the great strife all through the history of Israel (Isa. xi,. 13), and was at the root of the defection of the ten tribes, with whose overthrow the claims of Ephraim came to a disastrous end. But in the time of Moses it was the tribe of Joshua, his great general; and throughout the Book of Judges Ephraim's supremacy plainly appears, though more than once its claims led only to signal humiliation. In David's time it would have been absolutely high treason to put Ephraim before Judah (compare Ps. lxxviii. 67, 68).

With these grand poems Moses closed his long administration of Israel's government. For forty years, he had been " king in Jeshurun," and the time had now come for his departure. With wistful, gazing eyes he sun-eyed from the summit of Pisgah the length and breadth of the Promised Land, and then calmly died,, and Jehovah buried him in a ravine in the land of Moab, "but his sepulchre knoweth no man unto this day." It was a grand mysterious death, such as well became one of the greatest among the master spirits whom God from tune to time raises up to fashion the destinies of mankind, and who in the truest sense are his " servants," sent to do his will.



1) The name Zephath will, perhaps, sound unfamiliar to many English readers, even though they may he careful students of Bible history. As they read the narrative of the defeat of the Israelites by the Amalekites and Canaanites, Hormah appears as the scene of the disaster, A reference to Judg. i. 17 shows, however, that it had previously borne the name of Zephah, and that the new name Hormah ("destruction") was probably given to it at or soon after the time of the defeat, as denoting that the Israelites placed it under a solemn ban, and vowed that they would not rest till they had utterly destroyed the city which bad witnessed their disgrace. Comp. Numb. xxi. i - 3. — Ed.