Deuteronomy, Part 1

I intend to do a detailed study of Deuteronomy.  It coincided with my reading of an article in Newsweek, but I don’t know yet if that is anything more than a coincidence.  This is what Moses said to the assembly of Israel in the Transjordanian wastelands,[1] the book of Deuteronomy begins.  It struck me this time as an open invitation to compare Deuteronomy with what the Lord told Moses to say—Speak to the Israelites and tell them[2]—in Numbers 33:50-36:13 (NET).  I noticed immediately that what Moses said in Deuteronomy is considerably longer than what the Lord told him to say in Numbers.

Moses addressed the Israelites just as the Lord had instructed him to do.[3]  The note in the NET reads: “Heb ‘according to all which.’”  The Septuagint reads, κατὰ πάντα ὅσα ἐνετείλατο κύριος αὐτῷ πρὸς αὐτούς (literally, “following all as great as the Lord commanded him toward them”)

While I am willing to accept that God said more to Moses than is recorded in Numbers if Moses addressed the Israelites [according to all which] the Lord had instructed him to do, I notice that this same word ʼăsher was translated what in verse 1, whose twice in verse 4, that in verse 8 and just as in verse 11.  The problem is that verse 11 has a slightly different form of ʼăsher (כאשר) from all the other occurrences (אשר).  If Moses addressed the Israelites [, what] the Lord had instructed him to do, I think it only prudent to compare what Moses said to other passages with an open mind to potential differences between what Moses said and what the Lord told Moses to Speak to the Israelites and tell them.


Exodus, Numbers

The Lord our God spoke to us at Horeb and said, “You have stayed in the area of this mountain long enough.  Get up now, resume your journey…

Deuteronomy 1:6, 7a (NET)

The Lord said to Moses, “Go up from here, you and the people whom you brought up out of the land of Egypt…

Exodus 33:1a (NET)

…heading for the Amorite hill country, to all its areas including the arid country, the highlands, the Shephelah, the Negev, and the coastal plain – all of Canaan and Lebanon as far as the Great River, that is, the Euphrates.

Deuteronomy 1:7b (NET)

“Give these instructions to the Israelites, and tell them: ‘When you enter Canaan, the land that has been assigned to you as an inheritance, the land of Canaan with its borders,  your southern border will extend from the wilderness of Zin along the Edomite border, and your southern border will run eastward to the extremity of the Salt Sea, and then the border will turn from the south to the Scorpion Ascent, continue to Zin, and then its direction will be from the south to Kadesh Barnea.  Then it will go to Hazar Addar and pass over to Azmon.  There the border will turn from Azmon to the Brook of Egypt, and then its direction is to the sea.  And for a western border you will have the Great Sea.  This will be your western border.  And this will be your northern border: From the Great Sea you will draw a line to Mount Hor; from Mount Hor you will draw a line to Lebo Hamath, and the direction of the border will be to Zedad.  The border will continue to Ziphron, and its direction will be to Hazar Enan.  This will be your northern border.  For your eastern border you will draw a line from Hazar Enan to Shepham.  The border will run down from Shepham to Riblah, on the east side of Ain, and the border will descend and reach the eastern side of the Sea of Chinnereth.  Then the border will continue down the Jordan River and its direction will be to the Salt Sea.  This will be your land by its borders that surround it.’”

Numbers 34:2-12 (NET)

Look! I have already given the land to you.  Go, occupy the territory that I, the Lord, promised to give to your ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and to their descendants.”

Deuteronomy 1:8 (NET)

…to the land I promised on oath to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, saying, ‘I will give it to your descendants.’

Exodus 33:1b (NET)

I will send an angel before you, and I will drive out the Canaanite, the Amorite, the Hittite, the Perizzite, the Hivite, and the Jebusite.  Go up to a land flowing with milk and honey.  But I will not go up among you, for you are a stiff-necked people, and I might destroy you on the way.”

Exodus 33:2, 3 (NET)

The borders of the land of Israel were part of the instructions the Lord gave to Moses.  I won’t try to compare the geography of ancient place names.  The Lord’s statement—I will not go up among you, for you are a stiff-necked people, and I might destroy you on the way—was not repeated here in Deuteronomy.  When the people heard this troubling word they mourned.[4]  I think this troubling word is part of a covenant of law, the ministry that produced death and condemnation[5] as Paul called it.

I almost missed how momentous this insight is for me.  There were days between those sentences, days of data-gathering and meditation on pânı̂ym (פני) before I recognized something about me: I will not go up among you, for you are a stiff-necked people, and I might destroy you on the way, was the essential feature of God’s holiness as that holiness pertained to me.  I can’t trace its origin.  It’s so deep inside me it seems self-evident.  It’s the reason I thought salvation was essentially a way for God to overcome his holiness.

But prior to the law the Lord didn’t speak this way to Cain[6] after Cain murdered his brother.  Cain was banished, however, from the Lord’s presence or faceSurely You have driven me out this day from the face (pânı̂ym, פני; Septuagint: προσώπου) of the ground; I shall be hidden from Your face (pânı̂ym, ומפניך; Septuagint: προσώπου).[7]  So Cain went out from the presence (pânı̂ym, מלפני; Septuagint: προσώπου) of the Lord and lived in the land of Nod, east of Eden.[8]

God’s covenant with Abraham had one human requirement, one law, if you will—circumcision (Genesis 17:9-13 (NET):

Then God said to Abraham, “As for you, you must keep the covenantal requirement I am imposing on you and your descendants after you throughout their generations.  This is my requirement that you and your descendants after you must keep: Every male among you must be circumcised.  You must circumcise the flesh of your foreskins.  This will be a reminder of the covenant between me and you.  Throughout your generations every male among you who is eight days old must be circumcised, whether born in your house or bought with money from any foreigner who is not one of your descendants.  They must indeed be circumcised, whether born in your house or bought with money.  The sign of my covenant will be visible in your flesh as a permanent reminder.”

Moses, as a resident foreigner in a foreign land,[9] had not kept that one requirement with his own son.  Apparently, even after the Lord sent him back to Egypt to free Israel, Moses didn’t honor the covenant with God.  Now on the way, at a place where they stopped for the night, the Lord met Moses and sought to kill him.  But Zipporah took a flint knife, cut off the foreskin of her son and touched it to Moses’ feet, and said, “Surely you are a bridegroom of blood to me.”  So the Lord let him alone.  (At that time she said, “A bridegroom of blood,” referring to the circumcision.)[10]

This “Lord” who met Moses and sought to kill him was not some generic lord.  The Hebrew word is yehôvâh (יהוה) disguised in translation, I assume, as a religious attempt to obey the commandment: You shall not take the name of the Lord (yehôvâh,  יהוה) your God (ʼĕlôhı̂ym, אלהיך) in vain, for the Lord (yehôvâh,  יהוה) will not hold guiltless anyone who takes his name in vain.[11]  The story of yehôvâh, Moses and Zipporah leads me to consider that Moses’ slowness to honor the covenant was out of consideration for his foreign wife’s sensibilities.  They had discussed it.  She knew exactly what to do when yehôvâh (יהוה) sought to kill her husband.  But as I begin to study the face or presence of yehôvâh (יהוה) I will refrain from speculating how Zipporah knew that it was He who sought to kill him.

Even so Moses was deeply troubled, though perhaps not surprised, by the Lord’s declaration, I will not go up among you, for you are a stiff-necked people, and I might destroy you on the way.  But yehôvâh[12] (יהוה) reassured him: My presence (pânı̂ym, פני; Septuagint: αὐτὸς, self) will go with you, and I will give you rest.[13]  And Moses expressed for me what is the heart of the issue, If your presence (pânı̂ym; פניך; Septuagint: αὐτὸς σὺ, yourself) does not go with us, do not take us up from here.  For how will it be known then that I have found favor in your sight, I and your people?  Is it not by your going with us, so that we will be distinguished, I and your people, from all the people who are on the face (pânı̂ym;[14] פני) of the earth?[15]

In the Septuagint pânı̂ym (פני) was translated αὐτὸς (self) here rather than προσώπου (face).  It seemed to discount the efficacy of I will not go up among you, while it challenged my attempt to hold both statements true by casting pânı̂ym as another entity.  Yet αὐτὸς may well be another attempt to deal with this conundrum.  It implies something related but other than the I which would be understood from the Greek verb alone.  And the verbs were different.  I will not go up among you was μὴ συναναβῶ μετὰ σοῦ.[16]  My presence will go with you was αὐτὸς προπορεύσομαί σου.[17]  The verb προπορεύσομαί (a form of προπορεύομαι) means to precede, go before.  It’s a subtle distinction, but it still implied some distance to spare Israel from destruction.

The rabbis who translated the Septuagint were, and I am, seeking to no One we don’t entirely comprehend.  Our reference frames are different as well.  The rabbis believed yehôvâh ʼĕlôhı̂ym (אלהים יהוה) in a culture in which there were other ʼĕlôhı̂ym (אלהים) to choose.  Now, in my culture I will trust yehôvâh ʼĕlôhı̂ym (אלהים יהוה) or I will depend on myself.  I don’t see any other options.  So I decided to look deeply into pânı̂ym (פני).  I made it through Genesis thus far and some preliminary observations follow.

In the beginning the face or presence of the Lord had a location in space and time.  There were times when his face or presence was present in a location and times and locations when and where his face or presence was not.  Adam and Eve hid themselves from the presence (pânı̂ym, מפני; Septuagint: προσώπου) of the Lord (yehôvâh, יהוה) God (ʼĕlôhı̂ym, אלהים) among the trees of the garden. [18]  And I assume that Adam and Eve did not eat the forbidden fruit nor did Cain murder Abel in the presence of yehôvâh ʼĕlôhı̂ym.  Of course, I had to quote from the NKJV here because the NET blurred any potential distinction between the presence of the Lord God and the Lord God: and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the orchard.[19]

These spatial/temporal limitations were so much a part of the word pânı̂ym that it could mean prior to something occurring in time: Lot looked up and saw that the Jordan River valley was well-watered (before [pânı̂ym, לפני; Septuagint: πρὸ] the Lord [yehôvâh, יהוה] obliterated Sodom and Gomorrah) like the garden of the Lord (yehôvâh, יהוה), like the land of Egypt, all the way to Zoar.[20]  Bring me some wild game and prepare for me some tasty food, Rebekah overheard Isaac say to Esau; Then I will eat it and bless you in the presence (pânı̂ym, לפני; Septuagint: ἐναντίον) of the Lord (yehôvâh, יהוה) before (pânı̂ym, לפני; Septuagint: πρὸ) I die.[21]

(It may be worth noting that Isaac didn’t mention the presence of the Lord to Esau.  Rebekah said it to Jacob.  Rebekah was the sister of Laban.  A generation later, Jacob’s wife Rachel thought it expedient to steal Laban’s household idols.  In a guilt by association sort of way it may be necessary to consider that all Rebekah meant by the presence of the Lord was in proximity to a household idol designated yehôvâh.)

It is not our custom here, Laban explained after he put Leah into Jacob’s wedding bed rather than Rachel, to give the younger daughter in marriage before (pânı̂ym, לפני; Septuagint: πρὶν) the firstborn.[22]  These were the kings, Moses began a king list, who reigned in the land of Edom before (pânı̂ym, לפני; Septuagint: πρὸ) any king ruled over the Israelites.[23]  And finally, Your father gave these instructions before (pânı̂ym, לפני; Septuagint: πρὸ) he died,[24] Joseph’s brothers lied by a messenger they sent to Joseph.

The Lord (yehôvâh, יהוה) appearedby the oaks of Mamre.[25]  Abraham looked up and saw three men (ʼı̂ysh, אנשים; Septuagint: ἄνδρες) standing across from him.[26]  The word ʼı̂ysh occurred first from the mouth of Adam: this one will be called ‘woman,’ (ʼishshâh,  אשה) for she was taken out of man (ʼı̂ysh, מאיש; Septuagint: ἀνδρὸς).[27]  Abraham took some curds and milk, along with the calf that had been prepared, and placed the food before (pânı̂ym, לפניהם; Septuagint: παρέθηκεν) them.[28]  Another Hebrew word was also used for the three men Abraham saw when yehôvâh appeared, according to the NET website:  When the men (ʼĕnôsh, האנשים; Septuagint: ἄνδρες) got up to leave, they looked out over Sodom.[29]  (A note in the NET acknowledged that the Hebrew was actually “toward the face [pânı̂ym, פני; Septuagint: πρόσωπον] of” Sodom.)  One of the three men was yehôvâhThemen (ʼı̂ysh,[30] האנשים; Septuagint: ἄνδρες) turned and headed toward Sodom, but Abraham was still standing before (pânı̂ym, לפני; Septuagint: ἐναντίον) the Lord[31] (yehôvâh, יהוה).

In the next chapter the two men who left for Sodom were called angels, essentially a transliteration of the Greek or Latin words for messenger or envoy: The two angels (malʼâk,  המלאכים; Septuagint: ἄγγελοι) came to Sodom in the evening.[32]  Later they were called men again: Only don’t do anything to these men (ʼı̂ysh, לאנשים; Septuagint: ἄνδρας), for they have come under the protection of my roof,[33] Lot said.  So the men (ʼı̂ysh, האנשים; Septuagint: ἄνδρες) inside reached out and pulled Lot back into the house as they shut the door,[34] Moses wrote.  Then the two men inside struck the men (ʼı̂ysh, האנשים; Septuagint: ἄνδρας) who were at the door of the house, from the youngest to the oldest, with blindness.[35]  After that demonstration the men inside the house were called visitors (ʼı̂ysh, האנשים; Septuagint: ἄνδρες) in the NET.[36]  But later, even the NET called them men again: When Lot hesitated, the men (ʼı̂ysh, האנשים; Septuagint: ἄγγελοι[37]) grabbed his hand and the hands of his wife and two daughters because the Lord (yehôvâh, יהוה) had compassion on them.[38]

I have belabored this point because, though the ancient word may not be species specific[39] in a scientific sense, there is enough here, that if one believed Moses[40] about yehôvâh as a man visiting Abraham, he would not dismiss Jesus so easily as a blasphemer: The Jewish leaders replied, “We are not going to stone you for a good deed but for blasphemy, because you, a man (ἄνθρωπος), are claiming to be God.”[41]

I’ll pick this up again in the next essay.

Back to Fear – Deuteronomy, Part 4

[1] Deuteronomy 1:1a (NET)

[2] Numbers 33:51a (NET)

[3] Deuteronomy 1:3b (NET)

[4] Exodus 33:4a (NET)

[5] 2 Corinthians 3:7-10 (NET)

[6] Genesis 4:8-16 (NET)

[7] Genesis 4:14a (NKJV)

[8] Genesis 4:16 (NET)

[9] Exodus 2:22 (NET)

[10] Exodus 4:24-26 (NET)

[11] Exodus 20:7 (NET)

[12] Moses spoke to yehôvâh (יהוה) in Exodus 33:12, 13 (NET)

[13] Exodus 33:14 (NET)

[14] Face wasn’t exactly translated in the Septuagint: ὅσα ἐπὶ τῆς γῆς ἐστιν (“as great as upon the earth is”) much as face of the ground wasn’t exactly translated in Genesis 4:14 (NET).

[15] Exodus 33:15, 16 (NET)



[18] Genesis 3:8b (NKJV)

[19] Genesis 3:8b (NET)

[20] Genesis 13:10 (NET)

[21] Genesis 27:7 (NET)

[22] Genesis 29:26 (NET)

[23] Genesis 36:31 (NET)

[24] Genesis 50:16b (NET)

[25] Genesis 18:1 (NET)

[26] Genesis 18:2a (NET)

[27] Genesis 2:23b (NET)

[28] Genesis 18:8 (NET)

[29] Genesis 18:16a (NET)

[30] I’m not sure why האנשים highlights as ʼĕnôsh in Genesis 18:16 (NET) and ʼı̂ysh in Genesis 18:22 (NET), whether it is a subtlety of the Hebrew language or a mistake on the NET website (though Strong’s Concordance concurs).  See also: Genesis 19:10, 11, 12, 16 (NET)

[31] Genesis 18:22 (NET)

[32] Genesis 19:1 (NET)

[33] Genesis 19:8 (NET)

[34] Genesis 19:10 (NET)

[35] Genesis 19:11a (NET)

[36] Genesis 19:12 (NET)

[37] The rabbis who translated the Septuagint switched back to ἄγγελοι as the men functioned as envoys of the compassion of yehôvâh)

[38] Genesis 19:16 (NET)

[39] You must take with you seven of every kind of clean animal, the male (ʼı̂ysh, איש; Septuagint: ἄρσεν) and its mate, two of every kind of unclean animal, the male (ʼı̂ysh, איש; Septuagint: ἄρσεν) and its mate… (Genesis 7:2 NET)

[40] John 5:46 (NET)

[41] John 10:33 (NET)