AN EXEGESIS ON DEUTERONOMY 18.9-22
CAMPBELL UNIVERSITY DIVINITY SCHOOL BUIES CREEK, NORTH CAROLINA NOVEMBER 2008
BY JOEL M. USINA
© 2010 Joel M. Usina
A King Messiah Fellowship Contribution kingmessiah.org
Joseph Blenkinsopp states that Deuteronomy is “what we might anachronistically call the first canonical document, the first consistent attempt to impose an orthodoxy and orthopraxy.”1 He then lists certain references from the biblical text that resemble criteria to determine canonical eligibility. Blenkinsopp mentions, for example, that the text itself says no words can be added to it, nor taken from it (Deut 4:2; 12:32). At the end of Deuteronomy it states that “this law” must be read at certain times in the hearing of all Israel, and also lists a specific location for it to be placed to act as a “witness against [Israel]” (Deut 31:10-13, 36).2 Also, a passage says, in a seemingly prophetic or anachronistic fashion, that the king shall write a copy of this law and read it “all the days of his life” (Deut. 17.18-19). Walter Brueggemann writes, “The book of Deuteronomy stands as the primal example of the dynamism of the Torah tradition whereby old memories are endlessly re-presented and reinterpreted, rearticulated, and reimagined in ways that keep the main claims of faith pertinent and authoritative in new circumstances.”3 With both of these observations in mind, we could gather that at least one intention of the author of Deuteronomy was to create a detailed, perpetual, yet adaptive boundary for the people of Israel to conduct their daily lives within while performing proper, acceptable worship to YHWH. On the surface, the passage from Deuteronomy that is the focus of this endeavor makes clear at least three things: (1) Israel is not to “learn to follow the abominable practice of [the Canaanites]”; (2) Israel must “be blameless” before the LORD; and (3) God will continue to guide Israel by raising up a prophet “like” Moses, who will have God’s words put in his mouth and who will speak “all that [God] command[s] him.” The first two statements should be
Joseph Blenkinsopp. Treasures Old & New: Essays in the Theology of the Pentateuch (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2004), 60. 2 Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture will be quoted from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version (ESV), copyright © 2007 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers, Wheaton, IL. 3 Walter Brueggemann, An Introduction to the Old Testament: The Canon and Christian Imagination (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2003), 93.
understood as prescriptive in form, which appears to allow them to act as a “canonical authority” creating the possibility for a perpetual orthodoxy and orthopraxy, despite geographical location and/or cultural neighbors. In other words, whether an author is reading back into history his particular bias, or it is the case that this is actually what was either said and/or written down in some fashion at the time this took place, it remains true that “Canaanite” worship was not the only possible option for Israel to learn to follow. The third statement seems to be a reference to the actual person(s) who will wield, on behalf of God, the correct contextual application of God’s instructions, all the while maintaining their integrity. In light of our passage's content, and given the line of prophets that the Scriptures contain, the Assyrian exile, the Babylonian exile, the current state of the descendants of Jacob, and the way people have used this Scripture to support certain leaders, including Peter and Stephen’s application to Jesus, this section of Scripture seems worthy of exploration.
Deuteronomy is somewhat of an anomaly within the context of the contemporary canon. Genesis covers roughly two-millennia, consisting mainly of narratives about specific people and events. Nearly four hundred years pass between Exodus 1:1 and 1:22 (cf. Gen 15:9;...
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Rad, G. von. The Problem of the Hexateuch and Other Essays. London: SCM; New York: McGraw-Hill, 1966.
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