Review: The Gospel According to Moses

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Although a name like Deuteronomy, which translates as “second law,” is scarcely inviting to modern readers, the book we know by this name may yet hold the key to rediscovering the gospel in the Old Testament (xii).

Deuteronomy has been likened to the Romans and Gospel of John of the Old Testament. It is a reflection on God’s actions in saving a people for himself while presenting a full theology of the Old Testament. Not many scholars know Deuteronomy better than Block (880 pages in the NIVAC series, and an upcoming 1,800 page, 3 volume work on Deuteronomy seen here and here). This companion volume to How I Love Your Torah, O Lord! is made up of nine essays and three excursus on theological issues in Deuteronomy.

Summary

Chapter One is a theological introduction to Deuteronomy where Block briefly covers the book’s history of interpretation, its message, its canonical status, and its theology.

Chapter Two works to “recover the vote of Moses.” While many critical scholars think of Deuteronomy as being written by an anonymous writer or that it was put together in the days of Josiah (2 Kings 22-23). While agreeing that there was an editing process, Block shows how Moses’ words were authentic and that they became canonical quite quickly. Some might wonder about the importance of this chapter. Given that many think the Ten Words in Deuteronomy are incorrect and that the author/editor/Moses wrote/spoke in error (this topic is dealt with in chapter five), one quickly sees the importance of a chapter on the authoritative voice of Moses in Deuteronomy.

  • Excursus A gives us the texts dealing with the different voices in Deuteronomy: those of Yahweh, Moses, and the narrator, along with the first (5-26; 28) and second (31.1-32.47) editions of the Torah of Moses.
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  • Excursus B gives evidence of the Ten Commandments (“Words”) having been already written down and to the canonization of Moses’ speeches in Deuteronomy.

Chapter Three explores the role and ministry of Moses. Rather than Moses simply being the lawgiver in the eyes of Israel (and present days readers), Moses should be likened to a pastor who, knowing he is about to die and leave his congregation behind, gives them his final goodbyes in a series of sermons to provoke them to continue on in following Yahweh, the one true God. 

Chapter Four shows the reader how to preach the OT law to NT believers. It’s not a matter of distinguishing between moral, ceremonial, and civil laws. The solution isn’t found by asking “Do I have to keep these laws?,” but “How can I as a Christian keep these commandments?” (132). Block shows how the laws were supposed to be understood in the life of the believing community, then and now. 

Chapter Five compares the two versions of the 10 Words found in Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5, and reflects on the significance of the differences in matters of theology and life in Israel. How do these laws apply to a new generation, soon to enter the promised land, growing up 40 years after the Decalogue was first given?

  • Excursus C compares how the Reformed tradition numbers the Decalogue (“Ten Commandments”) with how the Catholic and Lutheran traditions number them.

Chapter Six gives us a theology of animals. We are to love God and our neighbor, but we shouldn’t forget the rest of God’s creation.

Chapter Seven covers other religions in OT theology. Rather than incorporating pagan ideas into their theology, the OT authors “thoroughly demythologized” the pagan notions and showed Yahweh to be the God of gods (213).

Chapter Eight is about bearing the name of Yahweh in a world that follows other gods. Israel had YHWH’s stamp on them, one intolerant to other brands and allegiances (267). To have the name of God on you meant to live according to the ways of God, not that of the Canaanites. “These things were written down for our instruction” (10.11).

Chapter Nine is on the Mosaic vision of worship to the living God. It is the human response to God’s redemption, calling, and revelation, and it is worship from the heart expressed in physical actions. This chapter is a work to reconnect the Old Testament, that Bible read by Jesus and the apostles, back to the New Testament in the eyes of church-goers today.

The Milk

As with all of Block’s writing, this is a solid work. I am always amazed (or bewildered) by the amount of information that Block is able to write about (and even remember). Though my views don’t line up with all of his (he’s a covenant theologian, something I’m not completely on board with), there is always much to learn from Block (see my Posts section below on the differences between the 10 commandments in Exodus and Deuteronomy, along with the Law’s view of women).

My one complaint is aimed toward the title and description. It seems nitpicky, but the book wasn’t exactly what I expected. Though it is titled “The Gospel of Moses” with the articles being “concerned with broad hermeneutical and theological issues raised by Deuteronomy,” and it seems to appeal to a broad audience, these essays were not written for a broad audience.

In the Preface Block states that the essays

range in focus from an introductory consideration of the theological message of the book to its original audience and to modern readers, to the theological message of the book, to how it might have been produced, to a consideration of how the book might aid Christians in their life of faith and enrich their worship of our gracious Redeemer (xiii).

Particular texts in Deuteronomy could be found in the How I Love Your Torah, O Lord! volume. Yet even in this volume there is an immense amount of detail in these essays, along with the use of untransliterated Hebrew without always giving its English translation. The topics are important, but they are not easy to read.

The back cover of the book reads,

Unfortunately, for many Christians, Deuteronomy is a dead book, because we have lost sight of the gospel. The essays in this collection arise from a larger project driven by a passion to recover for Christians the life-giving message of the Old Testament in general and the gospel according to Moses in particular.

Unfortunately, as well-written, informative, and astute as this book is, many churchgoers will struggle to get through this book, much less find its relevance. 

Recommended?

As with How I Love Your Torah, O Lord!, By the River Chebar, and Beyond the River Chebar, this volume is packed with information, not only details but insights into the overall text of Deuteronomy. For academics, seminary students, and to the knowledgeable layperson, Block’s volume is a goldmine for textual details, but the average pastor may have a hard time mining out enough application for Deuteronomy. For that they should go to Block’s Deuteronomy commentary in the NIVAC series. But for those who want to dig deeper into Deuteronomy past Block’s commentary, this is where they should look.

Lagniappe

Previous Posts

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[Special thanks to Wipf & Stock for allowing me to review this book. I was not required to give a positive review in exchange for this book].

Is Deuteronomy Pro-Woman? Part 2

 

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Having now looked at the Sabbath command between Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5, I want to turn to women and Deuteronomy. This section in Daniel Block’s The Gospel According to Moses comes from the same chapter that dealt with the Sabbath commands.

Many find the OT laws troubling and oppressive since they come from a patriarchal culture. I have trouble figuring out the laws in their context too as I don’t know the cultural context of the time, or why a certain law was given. In Deuteronomy Moses is giving instructions to a new generation of Israelites. One of Moses’ aims was to prevent the abuse of power by Israel’s rulers: kings, judges, elders, and priests. But there is also a large concern for “those contexts that concern the relationship of a man with his family, particularly the women of the household” (159).

Block gives eleven examples of laws in Deuteronomy that give consideration to women. Many of these laws are strange to our ears, and so this section is an important one. I gave the first seven examples in Part One, and the next four in are found here in Part Two.

The Facts, Jack

  1. The Wife Falsely Accused of Lying About Her Virginity (22-13-21)
    • This section divides into two parts:
      1. A primary case involving a false accusation (vv 13-19)
      2. A counter-case where the charges prove to be true (20-21)
        d
    • The former situation “goes to great lengths to protect a women from false accusations by an abusive husband who first turns against her and then trumps up and publicizes charges of immorality against her” (162).
      • Her parents are invited to come to her defense
      • There is a public hearing before the elders. If this man is wrong, all will know and he won’t get away with it.
      • “It invites the presentation of objective evidence to counter the false accusation” (162).
      • It’s an opportunity for the tables to turn on the accuser.
      • It calls for a public discipline of the man.
      • “It secures honor of the woman’s parents by forcing the man to pay compensation for having charged them with providing him with ‘damaged goods'” (162).
      • He cannot divorce the woman and is forced to provide for her a life of economic well-being (lest he divorce her and the Israelites have to provide for her, as in Point 1).
        d
    • But wouldn’t divorce be better for the woman than having to live with such a man? This text assumes that the punishment will bring a rehabiliative effect on the husband.
    • Ideally…
      • The husband will assume his responsible role as husband and live out his days protecting providing for, and, hopefully, loving his wife.
      • The wife can rest assured that she will have care and security in this normal household.
      • The parents may keep the bride price and the fine, but “they can relax because their daughter is restored to a protective environment” (162).
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  2. The Victims of Rape (22.23-29)
    • There are, again, two scenarios
      1. The rape of a virgin engaged to be married (vv23-27)
        • This provision assumes that if the rape is done in town, the woman would cry out for help (also, don’t imagine NYC as being their types of towns. Israelites were communal people and lived pretty close to each other in non-concrete reinforced houses). If she cried, someone would rescue her.
        • If the rape occurs in the country, and there is no one to hear her cry, “it gives her the benefit of the doubt and assumes her innocence” (163). The offender would be executed.
        • In this time, a non-virgin who wasn’t married was considered to be sexually promiscuous and would most likely end up not married. When a virgin was raped, it would not only dishonor her and her family, but it could end up meaning that she would not get married. Thus, she would have no provider and protector once her father passes away. This isn’t to say she couldn’t do any work herself, but it would be much more difficult.
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      2. The rape of a virgin not engaged to be married (vv28-29)
        • Exodus 22.17 considers the man’s actions to be seductive, but the text here speaks of the man seizing her, lying with her, and being caught in the act. He has degraded her, and so he must pay the woman’s father 50 shekels. This payment is a bride price, and the woman then becomes his bride. This doesn’t not seem like a pleasant law for a woman who has just been violated. Yet there is more to it than this.
        • As in verse 22, the present text concerns the righteous response to forced sex involving a virgin. The regulation seems to assume thee father’s and daughter’s rights of first refusal provided for i nthe earlier text. The point here is that if the man pays the bride gift and if the father agrees to accept his as a son-in-law, the man must fulfill all the marital duties that come with the rights to sexual intercourse, and in doing so guarantee the security of the woman (164).

        • Being a communal people, the man and his “unfortunate” wife are not going to move far away and live just the two of them away from friends and family so that the new husband can remain as he is and live according to his own wishes. There are stipulations to being this woman’s husband, and her entire family, friends, and tribe will ensure that this man fulfills his duties as husband.
        • This law would also be a warning to those who are considering rape, and it would be a deterrent against it.
          w
  3. The Divorced Woman (24.1-4)
    • The Issue: A man divorces a woman. She remarries another man. That man divorces her (or) that man dies. Her former husband cannot remarry her, for he has already forced “her to declare herself unclean” (166).
    • Basically, when the first husband divorces his wife, he must produce a document as legal proof for the divorce of the marriage. Without that document the husband could demand his wife back at any time (since, in theory, without the ‘proof’ document she would still be his). If she had been married during the divorce, the husband could accuse her of adultery. Thus, Moses says that a document must be made so that the husband can not abuse the wife in this way
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  4.  The Levirate Marriage (25.5-10)
    • The main purpose of this marriage was “to secure the integrity of families and inherited estates, which were threatened when a married man died without having fathered an heir” (166). Thus, the widow would marry the man’s nearest unmarried male relative to make sure everything stayed within the family. But sometimes this near relative didn’t want to marry the widow. What should she do now?
      • The widow presents her complaint before the elders at the community gate.
      • The elders speak to the brother-in-law and allow him to speak for himself.
      • If he refuses to perform his duty the widow can perform a ritual and publicly humiliate him.
        • She removes the sandal from his foot and spit in his face.
        • She declares, “This is what shall be done to the man who will not build his brother’s house.”
      • The elders are to stand by the widow against the brother-in-law who doesn’t take his responsibilities seriously.

Conclusion

While there are many unjust situations and scenarios that we come across in the Bible and in our world today that we do not have an answer to, we do have a future to look forward to. There will come a day when Christ is united with his bride, the Church, and we live together in the new creation. All will be pleasing and perfect. But until then, we now look in a mirror dimly. We long for the day when the world will be set right, when we will see Jesus “face to face” (1 Cor 13.12). Until then we are to seek his example, both as a Husband (Eph 5.25-27), and as one who suffered unjustly (1 Peter 2.21-25).

Lagniappe

Posts about Slavery

Outline

My review here

Is Deuteronomy Pro-Woman? Part One

 

moses

Having now looked at the Sabbath command between Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5, I want to turn to women and Deuteronomy. This section in Daniel Block’s The Gospel According to Moses comes from the same chapter that dealt with the Sabbath commands. Many find the OT laws troubling and oppressive since they come from a patriarchal culture. I have trouble figuring out the laws in their context too as I don’t know the cultural context of the time, or why a certain law was given. In Deuteronomy Moses is giving instructions to a new generation of Israelites. They were the children of those who were rescued out of Egypt, and they will soon enter the Promised Land (which happens in Joshua).

One reason Moses gave this second address was because

“male head of households [unlike Christ in Eph 5.25-27] are prone to exercise their authority in the interests of their own honor and status. One of the primary functions of the Decalogue  is to restrain the potential abuse of power by the heads of households” (159).

One of Moses’ aims was to prevent the abuse of power by Israel’s rulers: kings, judges, elders, and priests. But on the “grassroots level” (as Americans would say), there is also a large concern for “those contexts that concern the relationship of a man with his family, particularly the women of the household” (159).

Block gives eleven examples of laws in Deuteronomy that give consideration to women. Many of these laws are strange to our ears, and so this section is an important one. I give the first seven examples in Part One here, and the next four in Part Two.

The Facts, Jack

  1. The Concern for Widows (10.17-18)
    • Deuteronomy shows a large concern for those marginalized in the community. They are those who are vulnerable because they do not have a father or a husband, ones who would provide food and security. Beginning in 10.18 and nine more times in Deuteronomy, Moses declares a responsibility for the Israelites, and the heads of household, to seek out the well-being of the orphan, widow, and foreigner.
      w
  2. Invitations to Participate in Worship (12.12)
    • Unlike the segregation that would happen in Herod’s temple in the New Testament, women were invited to worship YHWH at the sanctuary (12.12, 18; 16.11, 14; 31.12).
      w
  3. The Manumission of Female (Indentured) Slaves (15.12)
    • While Exodus 21.2-11 speaks only about male slaves, Deuteronomy 15.12 speaks about both males and females.
      w
  4. Military Exemption for New Husbands (20.7)
    • When it comes to war, there were a few reasons men wouldn’t have to join and fight: if they had a newly constructed house, a newly planted vineyard, if they were afraid, or if they had just married. This isn’t just in the interest of the man, but in the woman too. She would want to enjoy their new marriage too! Verse 7 says, “Let him go back to his house, lest he die in the battle and another man take her.” Part of the issue here would be protecting her from another man.
      w
  5. The Captive Bride (21.10-14)
    • This text, strange as it is to our minds, is at least trying to squelch the “potential for male abuse of women in such contexts” (161). It is an “appeal to Israelites to be charitable in their treatment of foreign women, who, through no fault of their own, are forced to become a part of the Israelite community” (161).
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  6. The Second-Ranked Wife (21.15-17)
    • “Bigamous and polygamous marriages provided fertile soil for the mistreatment of women” (161). The text here assumes that one of the wives will become the favored wife (just think of Jacob, Rachel, and Leah) which means her son will be favored too (just like Jacob, Joseph, and Benjamin, two sons who came from Rachel, the favored wife of Jacob). This provision secures the well-being of the son of the not-loved-as-much wife, which will provide a means for the son to live and help his mother when she is in her old age.
      w
  7. The Mother of a Rebellious Child (21.18-21)
    • While the text starts off with a man having “a stubborn and rebellious son,” the mother is included in the authority and discipline of the rebellious son.

Conclusion

While there are many unjust situations and scenarios that we come across in the Bible and in our world today that we do not have an answer to, we do have a future to look forward to. There will come a day when Christ is united with his bride, the Church, and we live together in the new creation. All will be pleasing and perfect. But until then, we now look in a mirror dimly. We long for the day when the world will be set right, when we will see Jesus “face to face” (1 Cor 13.12). Until then we are to seek his example, both as a Husband (Eph 5.25-27), and as one who suffered unjustly (1 Peter 2.21-25).

Lagniappe

Posts about Slavery

Outline

My review here

Review: Beyond the River Chebar

CASCADE_Template

Beyond the River Chebar, a compilation of studies on kingship and eschatology in Ezekiel, is part two of the “River Chebar” series. Volume one is titled By the River Chebar (my review), and covers historical, literary, and theological topics in Ezekiel. Daniel Block, Gunther H. Knoedler Professor of Old Testament at Wheaton College, has been studying Ezekiel for twenty-five years now and is known for his works on Ezekiel and Deuteronomy.

As stated in volume one, to interpret the Hebrew Bible one must ask at least three questions:

  1. What does the text say?
  2. What did the text mean to the original audience?
  3. What does the text mean to me?
  4. What does the text say it like that?

Block proves that his twenty-five years have given him a grasp of Ezekiel’s thought world and of his own literary connections throughout the book.

Summary

Chapter One deals with Ezekiel’s lack of enthusiasm for “Zion theology.” The name “Zion” is missing form the book, the kingship of YHWH “receives little attention,” Ezekiel is more focused on Israel returning to the land than to “Jerusalem,” he never links God’s electing choice of the land of Zion and his election of David together, and more. Ezekiel is trying to dismantle Israel’s towering pride and bring them to a point of humble repentance and full obedience and serve to Yahweh.

Chapter Two shows how Ezekiel portrays the past, the present, and the future monarchy of Israel. Most of the kings were wicked, but YHWH does have a final plan of restoration. “[T]he exile should be interpreted not as a sign of divine rejection, but of election. YHWH had removed [the exiles] from Jerusalem to spare them the conflagration to come, and in Babylon he personally became their ‘small sanctuary’” (33). What happens to King Jehoiachin at the end of the exile is a ray of hope for the exiles and the dynasty of David.

Chapter Three gives us a look at how the book of Ezekiel contributes to the picture of King Jehoiachin in his portrayal as a cedar sprig (Ezek 17), a lion (Ezek 19.2-9), and a vine (Ezek 19.10-14). Again, the conclusion is that Ezekiel’s portrait of King Jehoiachin is a ray of hope that God “will not forget his ancient word to David” (73). Unfortunately, much of what is in the previous chapter is included here, although that’s to be expected when separate monographs are brought together into a single volume.

Chapter Four shows how Ezekiel’s prophecies were to destroy Israel’s notions of security simply based on their relationship to YHWH, and instead they were given to inspire hope that YHWH had not forgotten his covenant with his people and would rescue them through the means of a Davidic Messianic figure. In Chapter Five, this essay consists of observations on how the Gog oracle (Ezek 38-39) should be interpreted, on the form of the oracle, and a summary of the interpretation.

Chapter Six asks, “How does Ezekiel 38.17 fit in with the Gog prophecy?” Is Gog the one of whom YHWH spoke in former days by his servants the prophets of Israel? Or is he not? Chapter Seven – Having come after a few chapters of salvation/redemption prophecies, the prophecy about Gog in Ezekiel 38-39 seems misplaced. What is the function of the Gog oracle in Ezekiel 38-39? Ezek 39.21-29 shows how God will use Gog to glorify himself as the one who keeps his promises to his people by saving them and by permanently making them his own.

Chapter Eight gives us “ten interpretive keys to Ezekiel’s final vision” (Ezek 40-48). These chapters are not to be taken literally, as “the present vision picks up the theological theme [of YHWH’s permanent residence among his people] and describes the spiritual reality in concrete terms, employing the familiar cultural idioms of temple, altar, sacrifices, [prince], and land” (172). Chapter Nine provides us with the key to interpreting Ezekiel’s temple: Ezekiel 43.10-11. The sacred space of the temple the “perfection… and order of the entire system [would] create in [Israel] intense shame for their own iniquitous actions… and shatter all assumptions of worthiness” (186). 

The Chocolate Milk

What I found noteworthy is Block’s constant awareness of the context. He informs the reader of Ezekiel’s polemic against Israel’s “kings” and thus for the use of the term “prince” to distance the Davidic king from (most of) the unstable kings of Israel and Judah.

In chapter six, Gog in Prophetic Tradition, Block says that “the Gog pericope may be interpreted as a full-blown commentary on 28:25-26. This pattern of raising and idea briefly, only to drop it and then return to it in full with a full treatment in a later prophecy, may be observed repeatedly in the book of Ezekiel” (127). Examples include Ezek 16.60-63 and 36.16-32; 36.27 and 37.1-14 (fn. 2, 127).

Recommended?

Block is an extremely gifted scholar. He covers an exhaustive (and sometimes exhausting) amount of information (this can be seen especially in his footnotes). This is certainly an academic work. While it can be read and understood by a layman (me, for example), it is indeed not devotional reading. Yet, in all of it’s depth and torrents of information, you will get quality scholarship here. Block is an expert on Ezekiel (one of over twenty-five years [xi]), but is a conservative, evangelical scholar. He accepts a holistic view of Ezekiel’s work. It’s not that there couldn’t be any editing, but that the hand of Ezekiel is surely behind the book.

These are Ezekiel’s words from God. These are the thoughts and struggles of a prophet-priest who was commissioned by God to speak satire and extreme language to get Israel to listen, and who gave prophecies of hope and restoration so that God’s people would be at peace and have confidence in their God.

Lagniappe

Buy on Amazon or at Wipf & Stock

[Special thanks to Wipf & Stock for allowing me to review this book. I was not required to give a positive review in exchange for this book].