Deuteronomy 29 COMMENTARY (Ellicott)

Deuteronomy 29
Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
These are the words of the covenant, which the LORD commanded Moses to make with the children of Israel in the land of Moab, beside the covenant which he made with them in Horeb.


(1) These are the words of the covenant.—The Hebrew Bibles add this verse to the previous chapter, and begin Deuteronomy 29 at the second verse. But they cannot be right in so doing. For though the pronoun “these” in Hebrew has nothing to determine whether it belongs to what precedes or to what follows, yet the context shows that the covenant is described in Deuteronomy 29, not in Deuteronomy 28 (See Deuteronomy 29:12-15 below). It is very significant that this “covenant in the land of Moab” stands outside the tremendous sanction appended to the expansion of the Sinaitic covenant in Deuteronomy. The effect of this arrangement may be illustrated by a reference to Leviticus 26, 27. The “sanction” of the law in Leviticus, which is a complete code of ceremonial and moral holiness, is contained in Deuteronomy 26. But that chapter is followed by a passage respecting vows, which are not compulsory, and therefore obviously lie, as a whole, outside that which is “commanded.” The position of Deuteronomy 29, 30 is analogous to that of Leviticus 27. Thus we see that the tremendous curse of the Sinaitic covenant is not the end of God’s dealings with the chosen people. After that, there is still another covenant, to the force of which there is no limit (see Deuteronomy 29:15 below). The gifts and calling of God are irrevocable. Nothing can destroy the relation between Jehovah and Israel. Their resurrection as a nation may well be described by the words of Moses in Psalms 90, “Thou turnest man to destruction (national death—Deuteronomy 28), and sayest (Deuteronomy 29, 30), Return, ye children of men (resurrection). For a thousand years in thy sight (though spent in the grave) are but as yesterday when it is past, and as a watch in the night” (to be followed by the dawn of morning). “A watch in the night” is not the blackness of darkness for ever.

Beside the covenant which He made with them in Horeb.—It should be carefully noted that the formal repetition of the law in Moses’ second great discourse in this book opens with these words (Deuteronomy 5:2), “the Lord our God made a covenant with us in Horeb.” There is no real break in Deuteronomy from Deuteronomy 5:1 to the end of Deuteronomy 26 and Deuteronomy 27, 28 are the “sanction” of that covenant.

And Moses called unto all Israel, and said unto them, Ye have seen all that the LORD did before your eyes in the land of Egypt unto Pharaoh, and unto all his servants, and unto all his land;
(2) And Moses called all Israel and said unto them.—The address in this chapter may be compared with that of Joshua to the people (as distinct from their heads and officers) in Joshua 24. The topics brought before them are simple. In Deuteronomy 29:2-3, the miracles of the Exodus; in Deuteronomy 29:5; Deuteronomy 29:7, the wilderness journey; in Deuteronomy 29:7-8, the conquest of Sihon and Og. All are appealed to, from the captains of the tribes (Deuteronomy 29:10), to the little ones (Deuteronomy 29:11), and the lowest slaves (Deuteronomy 29:11). And the point set before them is one simple thing, to accept Jehovah as their God. All this is very closely reproduced in Joshua 24 (see Notes in that place).

Ye have seen.—The pronoun is emphatic. Yourselves are witnesses. I need not repeat the story. (Comp. Deuteronomy 11:2-7.)

The great temptations which thine eyes have seen, the signs, and those great miracles:
Yet the LORD hath not given you an heart to perceive, and eyes to see, and ears to hear, unto this day.
(4) Yet the Lord hath not given you an heart to perceive.—“To mark the mercies of the Holy One, blessed be He! and to cleave unto Him” (Rashi). And so in Psalm 106:7, “Our fathers understood not Thy wonders in Egypt; they remembered not the multitude of Thy mercies.” (See also on Deuteronomy 31:16, &c.)

And I have led you forty years in the wilderness: your clothes are not waxen old upon you, and thy shoe is not waxen old upon thy foot.
(5) See on Deuteronomy 8:4.

Ye have not eaten bread, neither have ye drunk wine or strong drink: that ye might know that I am the LORD your God.
(6) Ye have not eaten bread—but manna (Deuteronomy 8:3).

Neither have ye drunk wine or strong drink.—A fact stated here only, and evidently coming from the lips of one who “knew their walking through the wilderness.” “They drank of that spiritual rock that followed them; and that Rock was Christ.” God cared for their physical health and strength by the natural food which He gave them, and made their natural food represent the act of feeding upon Him. It is observable also that God seems to have especially blessed the abstinence from wine and strong drink for His sake in Israel. (See Lamentations 4:7.)

(7,8) See Deuteronomy 3:1-17.

And when ye came unto this place, Sihon the king of Heshbon, and Og the king of Bashan, came out against us unto battle, and we smote them:
And we took their land, and gave it for an inheritance unto the Reubenites, and to the Gadites, and to the half tribe of Manasseh.
Keep therefore the words of this covenant, and do them, that ye may prosper in all that ye do.
(9) Keep therefore the words of this covenant . . . that ye may prosper.—Comp. Joshua 1:8 (Note); Psalm 1:3.

Ye stand this day all of you before the LORD your God; your captains of your tribes, your elders, and your officers, with all the men of Israel,
(10) Ye stand this day all of you.—There is no limit to the blessing of following Jehovah and keeping His word. It is open to all, from the highest to the lowest, to take hold of His covenant.

Your little ones, your wives, and thy stranger that is in thy camp, from the hewer of thy wood unto the drawer of thy water:
(11) Your little ones.—Compare St. Peter’s words on the day of Pentecost: “The promise is unto you and to your children” (Acts 2:39). The covenant with Abraham was that the Almighty would be a God to him and to his seed (Genesis 17:7), including the child of eight days old (Deuteronomy 29:12), and the slave (Deuteronomy 29:13), who were to receive the sign of His covenant in their flesh for an everlasting covenant.

From the hewer of thy wood unto the drawer of thy water.—From this Rashi infers that “there were Canaanites who became proselytes in the time of Moses, in the same way as the Gibeonites in the days of Joshua.” It may have been so. And we know that there were many female captives of the Midianites who became slaves. (See Numbers 31)

That thou shouldest enter into covenant with the LORD thy God, and into his oath, which the LORD thy God maketh with thee this day:
(12) Enter (literally “pass “) into covenant with the Lord.—Comp. Ezekiel 20:37 : “I will cause you to pass under the rod, and I will bring you into the bond of the covenant” Rashi illustrates by Jeremiah 34:18, the passing between the parts of the divided victim, in order to enter into the covenant. (Comp. Genesis 15:17-18.) But no such ceremony is mentioned here, and therefore we can only say that possibly the practice may have given occasion for this use of the word “pass.”

His oath.—A word here used for the first time in Deuteronomy. It is rendered “curse” in Deuteronomy 29:19-21. It seems to mean an imprecation in the name of God (comp. Leviticus 5:4; Genesis 24:41), which may bring a curse if the thing sworn to is not fulfilled.

Which the Lord thy God maketh with thee.—Maketh; literally, cutteth. The word refers to the “covenant.”

That he may establish thee to day for a people unto himself, and that he may be unto thee a God, as he hath said unto thee, and as he hath sworn unto thy fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.
(13) That he may establish thee to day for a people unto himself.—It must be carefully observed that this is the aspect of the covenant which makes Jehovah responsible for the fulfilment of the whole. “He takes all this trouble for the sake of establishing thee in His presence for a people” (Rashi). The people’s part, as described in this verse, is only to accept the position. And thus the covenant of Deuteronomy 29 is brought into the closest similarity with that which is called the New Covenant in Jeremiah 31:31, Hebrews 8:8; the form of which is “I will” be to them a God, and “they shall” be to me a people. God undertakes for the people’s part of the covenant as well as His own. In Deuteronomy the first half of the New Covenant appears here in Deuteronomy 29, “that He may be unto thee a God.” The second part appears in Deuteronomy 30:6-8, “The Lord thy God will circumcise thy heart . . . to love the Lord thy God.”

Neither with you only do I make this covenant and this oath;
(14, 15) Neither with you only . . . but . . . also with him that is not here with us this dayi.e., “also with generations yet to be” (Rashi).

But with him that standeth here with us this day before the LORD our God, and also with him that is not here with us this day:
(For ye know how we have dwelt in the land of Egypt; and how we came through the nations which ye passed by;
(16, 17) These verses seem rightly placed in a parenthesis. (Comp. Ezekiel 20:7-8; Ezekiel 20:18.)

And ye have seen their abominations, and their idols, wood and stone, silver and gold, which were among them:)
(17) Their abominations.—This word occurs here for the first time, but the verb appears in Deuteronomy 7:26 (“utterly detest “), and in Leviticus 11:11; Leviticus 11:13; Leviticus 11:43; Leviticus 20:25. In the later scriptures of the Old Testament this word “abomination” is frequently used to denote an idol.

Their idols.—Either “great blocks,” or as in the margin, a term of extreme contempt. (See Leviticus 26:30, where the word first occurs. ) It is a favourite term with the prophet Ezekiel, who uses it four times as often as other writers in the Old Testament.

Lest there should be among you man, or woman, or family, or tribe, whose heart turneth away this day from the LORD our God, to go and serve the gods of these nations; lest there should be among you a root that beareth gall and wormwood;
(18) Lest there should be.—The connection with Deuteronomy 29:15 seems to be this. “I make this covenant binding with all your generations, in case there should even now be any root of idolatry among you which may grow up and bring forth fruit in later times, and bring a curse upon your whole country.” That there were such roots of idolatry is only too plain from Deuteronomy 31:16, and from what followed after the death of the elders of this generation. (Comp. Judges 2:10-12.)

A root that beareth gall and wormwood.—The same two words occur in Lamentations 3:19, and one of them (gall) in Psalm 69:21. From whatever root it came, there was One to whom it was given to drink. The LXX. form of this expression, “lest there is among you any root that springeth up in gall and bitterness,” is incorporated into the warning in Hebrews 12:15 : “Looking diligently, lest any man fail of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and thereby many be defiled.”

And it come to pass, when he heareth the words of this curse, that he bless himself in his heart, saying, I shall have peace, though I walk in the imagination of mine heart, to add drunkenness to thirst:
(19) The imagination.—Rather the “stubbornness” or “obstinacy.” The word is only found here and in Psalm 81:12 outside the writings of Jeremiah, who uses it eight times.

To add drunkenness to thirst—i.e., the indulgence of the desire to the desire itself; to add sin to temptation. The LXX. have a strange paraphrase, “So that the sinner shall not involve the righteous with him in destruction.” The thought seems to be that, perhaps, one idolater would not make so much difference to Israel. He would never involve the whole nation in destruction. The drunkard could not be the ruin of the thirsty, so to speak, and, therefore, he might do as he pleased, and might, in fact, escape punishment, being protected by the general prosperity of Israel. The quotation in the Epistle to the Hebrews meets this mistaken view admirably: “Lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and thereby many be defiled.” The Targums render “to add sins of infirmity to sins of presumption,” a rendering which partly explains that of the LXX.

The LORD will not spare him, but then the anger of the LORD and his jealousy shall smoke against that man, and all the curses that are written in this book shall lie upon him, and the LORD shall blot out his name from under heaven.
(20) Shall smoke.—Comp. Psalm 80:4; Psalm 74:1. Mount Sinai was altogether “on a smoke” because the Lord descended on it in fire.

Shall lie upon him.—As the beasts lie down in their lairs. The only other place which we can at all compare with this is the difficult expression in Genesis 4:7, “Sin lieth at the door.”

And the LORD shall separate him unto evil out of all the tribes of Israel, according to all the curses of the covenant that are written in this book of the law:
(21, 22) And the Lord shall separate him unto evil . . . so that the generation to come . . . shall say . . . of that land.—It is not a little remarkable that the sin of one man is here represented as growing and spreading devastation over the whole land of Israel—the very thing which the man apparently regards as impossible in his inward reasonings, described in Deuteronomy 29:19. Yet is not this the true anticipation of what actually occurred? Comp. 1 Kings 14:15-16 : “The Lord shall root up Israel out of this good land, which He gave to their fathers . . . and He shall give Israel up because of the sins of Jeroboam, who did sin, and who made Israel to sin” And what Jeroboam was to Israel, Manasseh was to Judah (Jeremiah 15:4): “I will cause them to be removed into all kingdoms of the earth, because of Manasseh the son of Hezekiah, king of Judah, for that which he did in Jerusalem.”

So that the generation to come of your children that shall rise up after you, and the stranger that shall come from a far land, shall say, when they see the plagues of that land, and the sicknesses which the LORD hath laid upon it;
And that the whole land thereof is brimstone, and salt, and burning, that it is not sown, nor beareth, nor any grass groweth therein, like the overthrow of Sodom, and Gomorrah, Admah, and Zeboim, which the LORD overthrew in his anger, and in his wrath:
(23) And that the whole land thereof is brimstone, and salt, and burning, that it is not sown, nor beareth, nor any grass groweth therein.—Can this be a description of the same country of which it was written in Deuteronomy 8:7-9, “A good land, a land of brooks of water, of fountains and depths that spring out of valleys and hills; a land of wheat, and barley, and vines, and fig trees, and pomegranates; a land of oil olive, and honey; a land wherein thou shalt eat bread without scarceness;” and (Deuteronomy 11:12) “a land which the Lord thy God careth for”? Yet every one knows which of these two descriptions has been nearer to the actual fact for many centuries.

Even all nations shall say, Wherefore hath the LORD done thus unto this land? what meaneth the heat of this great anger?
(24) All nations shall say, Wherefore . . .?—The people of Israel are represented as asking a similar question in Jeremiah 5:19, “And it shall come to pass, when ye shall say, Wherefore doeth the Lord our God all these things unto us? Then shalt thou answer them, Like as ye have forsaken me, and served strange gods in your land; so shall ye serve strangers in a land that is not yours.” Compare also the warning given to Solomon after the completion of the Temple (marginal reference).

Then men shall say, Because they have forsaken the covenant of the LORD God of their fathers, which he made with them when he brought them forth out of the land of Egypt:
For they went and served other gods, and worshipped them, gods whom they knew not, and whom he had not given unto them:
(26) Whom he had not given.—The latter clause may be a change from plural to singular. “They went and served other gods, gods whom they knew not, and none of whom gave them any portion.”

And the anger of the LORD was kindled against this land, to bring upon it all the curses that are written in this book:
And the LORD rooted them out of their land in anger, and in wrath, and in great indignation, and cast them into another land, as it is this day.
(28) And the Lord rooted them out.—Comp. 1 Kings 14:15, “He shall root up Israel out of this good land.” The word is not uncommon in Jeremiah.

The secret things belong unto the LORD our God: but those things which are revealed belong unto us and to our children for ever, that we may do all the words of this law.
(29) The secret things belong unto the Lord our God.—The immediate connection of these words with the context is not clear. Rashi connects the “secret things” with the “imagination of the evil heart of the secret idolater” of Deuteronomy 29:19. (The “secret faults” of Psalm 19:12 is the same expression.) His note runs thus: “And if thou say, What can we do? wilt Thou punish the many for the devices of the one? as it is said (Deuteronomy 29:18), ‘lest there be among you man or woman,’ and afterwards (Deuteronomy 29:22), ‘they shall see the plagues of that land;’ and yet, Is there any man that knoweth the secrets of his fellow? It is not that I shall punish you for those secrets; they belong to the Lord our God, and He will exact them from the individual sinner; but the things that are disclosed belong to us and to our children, to ‘put away the evil from the midst of us.’ And if judgment is not executed among them, the many will be punished.” But it is impossible not to feel that there is more behind the words of this passage than this. We must remember that Moses was delivering to Israel not law only but prophecy. And further, we may be certain that there was more in this latter portion of his prophecy than he could understand. May not this be one of the occasions concerning which the apostle says of the prophets, that they “searched what or what manner of time the spirit of Christ which was in them did signify”? All those curses were to come upon Israel, and yet, after that, there was still a covenant with them, embracing every generation to the world’s end. Must not Moses have longed to know what would befall his people in the latter days? and if we ourselves, “upon whom the ends of the world are come,” do not yet see the future of Israel distinctly, are not the words appropriate still? “The secret things belong unto the Lord our God: the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children for ever.” To the very end, what better way is there than this? “Lord, I have hoped for Thy salvation, and done Thy commandments” (Psalm 119:166).

Courtesy of Open Bible