Sunday, December 30, 2007

Deuteronomy 1 - 8: The Farewell Speech Begins

We're back. MRTB is rested, refreshed, and ready to venture further into the mysteries of the Old Testament. But first:

Procedural Notes

I blog for lots of reasons. I enjoy writing, and I like the thinking that you have to do when you're writing regularly. The communities that develop around blogs has been a huge and unanticipated bonus; it gets harder and harder to distinguish between "blog friends" and "real life friends," with the important exception that I always know what members of the latter group look like.

The original reason I started keeping blogs, though, was to light a fire under my long-term projects. Whether it's my reading list, my "Great Films" project, my quilting goals, or -- of course -- reading the Bible, blogging about it backs me into a corner. I've got to stick with my projects, or I'll look like an idiot. More of an idiot, anyway.

The problem is this: you reach a point where, between all of the projects and the write-ups, you start to have trouble getting enough sleep. I've reached that point, and need to do some cutting back. Am I going to abandon the Bible project? Absolutely not. It's a great project! But, it's not a very popular blog. It just doesn't get read very much, and it hardly gets comments at all. At the end of the day, there's just not enough happening to justify the amount of time I've put into it.

So with that in mind, for now I am going to continue but strip things down a little. Here's the plan:

  • No More Art. Finding the images has been fun and rewarding, but time-consuming; basically, it's been a whole side-project of its own. For now, we'll be text-only.
  • Bigger Bites. I've been averaging about four chapters per entry recently. I'm going to try to bump that up to six or seven chapters per entry.
  • Less Detail. It's hard, because there is just SO MUCH that's interesting. But I bet nobody will complain if I back off on some of the detail.
  • Schedule? I'm not sure if I want to stick to the Sunday night schedule or not. We'll see.

So that's the plan. Let's roll.

"Today, I consider myself the luckiest prophet on the face of this Earth."

The first 33 of Deuteronomy's 34 chapters -- I snuck a peek ahead -- turns out to be Moses' long goodbye speech. Chapter 34 describes his death. Since most of what he wants to talk about seems to be the events described in Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers, as well as the laws that were revealed in those chapters, there is clearly going to be some review going on.

Deut 1 - 3: How Did We Get Here?

You know those guys who show up at athletic events with signs referencing a single Biblical verse, hoping that they'll be caught on camera so that the entire viewing audience will be struck with curiosity and crack open the family Bible? They pick out verses that they think summarize their personal religious philosophy especially well, of course. Well, I often stumble across verses that are so incidental, so trivial, so devoid of spiritual insight, such obvious candidates for removal if the Bible had ever been edited, that the absurdist in me wants to slap them on a sign and head for the stadium. Such is the case with Deuteronomy 1:2, which reads as follows:

(It takes eleven days to go from Horeb to Kadesh Barnea by the Mount Seir road.)

But I digress. In the first three chapters of Deuteronomy, Moses recounts the events of Numbers 10 - 36, from the point when the Israelites broke camp at Mt. Sinai. Despite that a full generation has passed since that time, he lays it on pretty thick with the guilt trips, continually reminding the assembly of times they let him, and God, down. Presumably, he is thinking of their parents, but what the heck. He's a very old guy by now, and likely a bit confused.

Deut 4 - 6: The Law

It looks like there is going to be a lot of recap of the law here in Deuteronomy. For now, Moses speaks generally about the greatness of God, the importance of obedience of God and of the Law, and the prohibition of idols. Also, the Ten Commandments are repeated, in exactly the same wording as they were originally presented back in Exodus 20. Particularly dogged readers might recall that I challenged the importance of these particular 10 injunctions back then, pointing out that there is nothing in particular in Exodus to indicate that they are any more crucial than the many other laws before and after them. That they are set aside and highlighted here in Deuteronomy pretty much shoots down that criticism.

Deut 7: Imperial Israel

Moses assures the Israelites again that God will deliver the Promised Land, as long as they honor him and his laws. They are, as we have seen before, not expected to be gracious to their defeated enemies. Make no treaty with them, exhorts Moses, and show them no mercy. (2) Their leaders are not only to be killed, but to have their names wipe[d] out from under heaven. (24) Their religious buildings and monuments are to be destroyed utterly, of course, but the people themselves are pretty much marked for slaughter as well: The Lord your God will send the hornet among them until even the survivors who hide from you have perished. (20)

Deut 8: Encore!

Chapter 8 discusses, again, how important it is to follow the law, to remember that God freed the nation from slavery and therefore deserves and expects submission to his will. This is the main point that Moses is making in his speech, of course -- the Israelites do not have the strongest of track records, obedience-wise, and he knows that this is his last shot at whipping them into shape. So, with the speech only one-quarter done, I'm guessing this is not the last time he will reiterate the point.

Next Time: Before television, a crowd could sit still while they were being read the legal code.