Deuteronomy 29 Study Notes


29:1 This is more appropriately 28:69 in the Hebrew text since it serves as a conclusion to the covenant law begun in 1:1-5, which it echoes.

29:2-30:20 This section consists of a historical review and might be referred to as an epilogue. It is not strictly part of the covenant document as typically crafted. It provides a summation of God’s past dealings with Israel, restates the present occasion of the covenant offer and acceptance, and addresses the options of covenant disobedience and obedience respectively. Finally, it exhorts the assembled throng to covenant commitment.

29:4 Despite Israel’s seeing everything the Lord did in Egypt and in the wilderness (vv. 2-3), he had not given them a mind to understand. He had not forced them to believe against their will, but he had given them every opportunity and inducement to believe. It is at this point that divine sovereignty and human choices intersect. God makes his truth available to all people, but they can choose to harden themselves against it and thus deny themselves its blessings (Is 6:9-10; Rm 11:8).

29:5-8 The notion that the Lord can and does prove himself to be God by his mighty works of deliverance and provision is a major biblical and theological motif. From beginning to end, Israel’s covenant history had been a record of miracle. These verses echo 8:2-4.

29:9 In light of all of God’s mighty acts on Israel’s behalf (vv. 5-8), he had every right to expect them to observe the Deuteronomic covenant and thus ensure their success; but human nature being what it is, even miraculous displays of power did not always lead to faith and repentance (Jn 12:37).

29:10-13 These verses announce the purpose of the assembly of all Israel—to enter into covenant and to become God’s people.

29:12 Deuteronomy is a covenant renewal document founded on the covenant first made at Mount Sinai. The idea that Israel was now about to enter into the covenant of the Lord means, then, that they were renewing the covenant commitment their fathers had made nearly forty years earlier, assuming its privileges and responsibilities.

29:13 Once Israel had pledged its covenant fidelity, the Lord would reciprocate by establishing Israel as his people and himself as their God as promised to their forefathers (cp. Gn 17:7; Lv 11:45; 26:12). The verb translated establish is a technical term referring to the ratification of an already existing agreement such as this one (8:18; 9:5; Gn 6:18; 9:9; 17:19,21; Ex 6:4). God had not just introduced a new covenant arrangement with this generation, but had also confirmed one made with the patriarchs and their fathers at Sinai.

29:14-15 The covenant was being reaffirmed by the Lord not only with Israelites of that generation (v. 14) but with those who are standing here—non-Israelite proselytes who had also embraced the God of Israel (cp. v. 11; Ex 12:38). Beyond that, it was being made with those who are not here today—the unborn generations who would also need to affirm their commitment to God (4:9).

29:16-17 The abhorrent images and idols of the nations through which Israel had just traveled (v. 16; Nm 25:1-5) would continue to be a snare to Israel. Sinful humans prefer gods of their own creation to the living God.

29:18 Because Israel would be attracted to gods they could see, they had to avoid the temptation of idolatry. The first two commandments—the heart of covenant confession—called for Israel to acknowledge the existence of the Lord as the only god and forbade representing him or any other deity in visual form. The root Moses warns against here no doubt refers to the concept of idolatry that, if allowed to grow in the human mind and heart, would produce the fruit of idolatrous practice.

29:19 The well-watered land as well as the dry land is a proverbial statement suggesting that no person who sins willfully against the covenant can expect to escape the judgment of the Lord, no matter how pious his confessions of faith.

29:20-21 The fate of a person who sins willfully (lit “with a high hand,” Nm 15:30) is serious indeed—the Lord will blot out his name under heaven (cp. 9:14; 25:19; Ex 32:32-33), implying that he would be forgotten by future generations.

29:22-23 The topic changes here from the individual to the whole community. The viewpoint also changes to that of future generations after the curses have been implemented.

29:24-26 When future generations saw the awful destruction of the land and inquired about its cause, the answer would be immediate and clear: because they abandoned the covenant of the Lord. This most egregious of sins violated the foundational element of the relationship between the Lord and his people—the first two commandments (5:7-8).

29:27-28 According to McConville, “the topic of the wrath of Yahweh [the Lord] . . . finds its most concentrated expression in the book in these verses [vv. 22-29], with six nouns for anger deployed.”

29:29 How could the nation continue to exist in light of its promised destruction? The best solution to this apparent contradiction between hidden things belonging to God and revealed things belonging to Israel is to view it as the perception of the other nations. They would observe Israel’s outcome and conclude that the covenant relationship had been terminated, but they would be unable to understand that God’s word to his people could never be canceled. God would bring his people to repentance so they could enjoy unending fellowship with him (30:1-10; cp. Jr 31:31-34; Ezk 36:24-38; Rm 11:1-32).