Biblical Studies

The Structure of Deuteronomy’s Law Code?

Is the book of Deuteronomy just a mishmash of history (chs. 1-4), events (journey into the land, chs. 5-11), and law codes (chs. 12-25)? Seemingly endless amounts of random-specific situations that could never all seem to happen to a single person in their lifetime. Is there a rhyme or reason to these passages?

In Millar’s book Now Choose Life: Theology and Ethics in Deuteronomy, he goes through the book of Deuteronomy and shows how the people then (and us today) are to find ethics on how to live in the book. It’s not the kind that says, “Obey this and God will accept you” but “because of what God has done for you, do this.” 

In Deut. 5 Moses repeats the Decalogue (the Ten Commandments) to the new generation in Moab and tells them the greatest commandment (6:5), how they are a chosen people, and that it is because of their status in His eyes and because of His blessings to them that they should remember Him. To remind them of their weak, feeble morality Moses retells of their rebellions, how he was made angry and had to make a new set of tablets, and that despite their hard hearts the Lord loves them, has chosen them, and will reward their love and obedience. In 11:32 Moses says, “And you shall be careful to observe all the statutes and judgments which I set before you today” and is connected to 12:1 by Moses telling them what the statutes and judgments are: These are the statutes and judgments which you shall be careful to observe in the land which the Lord God of your fathers is giving you to possess, all the days that you live on the earth.”

Then we run into an onslaught of strange laws that seem to have no bearing on the text, much less our own life. Apparently these laws meant something to the people then, but is there any modus operandi to the author’s reason for writing Deuteronomy in such a way?

Well, in fact, yes. In fact, it’s not that Moses sat there and started to write whatever laws came into his head, (a.k.a. “Hey, this sounds like a good one!”), but it’s possible that the structure of the laws from Deut. 12-25 follows the Ten Commandments giving in Deut. 5.

  • #1-2 Right Worship (12:1-28)
  • #3 False Oaths (13:1-14:27)
  • #4 Sabbath (15:1-18; 16:1-17)
  • #5 Authority (16:18-20; 17:2-20; 18:1-22)
  • #6 Homicide (19:1-13, 20; 21:1-9, 22-23; 22:8)
  • #7 Adultery and Illicit Mixtures (22:9-11; 22:13-23:1; 23:3-15, 18-19)
  • #8 Theft and Property Violations (23:20-26; 24:7)
  • #9 Fair Treatment of Fellows (24:8-25:4)
  • #10a Coveting Neighbor’s Wife (25:5-12)
  • #10b Coveting Neighbor’s Property (25:13-16)

This is not a perfect understanding; there are still problems with this scheme. The Decalogue is never actually quoted in chapters 12-25, and the connections are not always clear. However, reading these chapters in this light does give structure to the reading of Deuteronomy, which, with this book, is much appreciated.

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