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Bible Commentaries

Expository Notes of Dr. Thomas Constable

Deuteronomy 16



Verses 1-17

The celebration of Passover, Firstfruits, and Tabernacles16:1-17

The point of connection of this section with what precedes is the sacrificial meals. Moses repeated here the instructions regarding those important feasts that included sacrificial meals that the people would eat at the tabernacle (cf. Exodus 12; Leviticus 23; Numbers 28-29).

1. Passover and Unleavened Bread Deuteronomy 16:1-8

2. Pentecost (also called Harvest, Weeks, and Firstfruits) Deuteronomy 16:9-12

3. Tabernacles (also called Ingathering and Booths) Deuteronomy 16:13-17

God commanded all the male Israelites to assemble at the sanctuary for all these feasts each year ( Deuteronomy 16:16). These feasts amounted to a pledge of allegiance to Yahweh each time the Israelites celebrated them. They came to His presence to do Song of Solomon , as their Near Eastern neighbors returned to their kings similarly to honor them periodically.

"The ancient requirement that the men of Israel should report to the central sanctuary three times a year has an interesting parallel in the Near Eastern treaty requirements. It was common practice for suzerains to require their vassals to report to them periodically, in some cases three times a year, in order to renew their allegiance and to bring tribute." [Note: Thompson, p198.]

The Passover and Unleavened Bread feasts were a more solemn occasion ( Deuteronomy 16:8), but the other two were joyous celebrations ( Deuteronomy 16:11; Deuteronomy 16:15). Evidently the Israelites roasted the Passover lamb ( Exodus 12:9), but they boiled the additional offerings for that day ( Deuteronomy 16:7; cf. 2 Chronicles 35:13). [Note: Sailhamer, p452.]

God"s people should celebrate God"s redemption, remember our previous enslaved condition, and rejoice in God"s provisions corporately and regularly (cf. Ephesians 5:4; Philippians 4:6; Colossians 2:7; Colossians 4:2; 1 Timothy 4:3-4). These are the things God encourages Christians to remember at the Lord"s Supper ( 1 Corinthians 11:23-28).

Verse 18

Judges and similar officials16:18-17:13

As in the other sections of Deuteronomy , here too Moses" emphasized underlying principles more than procedures. Here he stressed the principle of justice.

Verses 18-20

Probably the people chose the Judges , and the leaders of the nation appointed them (cf. Deuteronomy 1:13). "Judges" were individuals responsible for administering justice, and "officers" were administrators charged with the enforcement of law, perhaps similar to modern police officers. [Note: Craigie, The Book . . ., p247.] The number of these in each town probably varied according to the needs of the community.

". . . in order to give the people and the judges appointed by them a brief practical admonition, as to the things they were more especially to observe in their administration of justice, Moses notices by way of example a few crimes that were deserving of punishment ( Deuteronomy 16:21-22, and chap. xvii1), and then proceeds in chap. xvii2-7 to describe more fully the judicial proceedings in the case of idolaters." [Note: Keil and Delitzsch, 3:379-80.]

"For most of us today, the notion that it is always and everywhere wrong for a judge to take a gift from a litigant probably seems so obvious as to be virtually self-evident. Nevertheless, the fact remains that that idea has historically been far from apparent to a large part of humankind. In the ancient Near East, for instance, almost every society regarded the practice of judges taking gifts from litigants as being perfectly moral and absolutely legitimate ...

". . . a gift-giver placed upon a recipient a binding moral obligation to respond in kind ...

"Importantly, such reciprocity is not considered morally reprehensible. Indeed the failure of either judge or litigant to reciprocate is what is deemed immoral and unjust ..." [Note: Goldberg, pp15-17.]

In this respect then Israel was to be different from other nations.

". . . in Israel, as in much of the ancient world, the human judge was considered proxy for the divine judge. For instance, ... in 2 Chronicles 19:6-7 ..." [Note: Ibid, p22.]

"Deuteronomy is passionately concerned about justice (Hebrew tsedeq, mishpat): "Justice, and only justice, you shall pursue" ( Deuteronomy 16:20, which makes this a condition of living and prospering in the land). This follows from the doctrine of Israel as a community of "brothers" equal before God." [Note: Whybray, p101.]

Verses 18-22

5. Laws arising from the fifth commandment16:18-18:22

The fifth commandment Isaiah , "Honor your father and your mother" ( Deuteronomy 5:16). What follows is legislation that advocates respecting authority figures in the nation, which was an extended family.

"With the regency of Yahweh and the proper protocol by which He had to be approached having been established, the covenant text then addresses the human leaders who serve Him and exercise authority over the nation at large." [Note: Merrill, "A Theology . . .," p80.]

"Just as in its religious worship the Israelitish nation was to show itself to be the holy nation of Jehovah, so was it in its political relations also. This thought forms the link between the laws already given and those which follow." [Note: Keil and Delitzsch, 3:378.]

Verse 21-22

An asherah ( Deuteronomy 16:21) was perhaps a sacred tree or group of trees or wooden pole that the Canaanites used in the worship of their female fertility goddess, Asherah. Asherah was evidently both the name of a Canaanite goddess as well as a cult object used in her worship. The pagans usually made their sacred pillars ( Deuteronomy 16:22) of stone or wood and used them in the worship of Baal, the male Canaanite god of fertility, and Asherah.

"In Canaan the "asherah ("trees," "pillars," or "groves") were associated with oracular verdicts by their gods and goddesses." [Note: Schultz, p61. See Andre Lemaire, "Who or What Was Yahweh"s Asherah?" Biblical Archaeology Review10:6 (November-December1984):42-51; and especially John Day, "Asherah in the Hebrew Bible and Northwest Semitic Literature," Journal of Biblical Literature105:3 (September1986):385-408.]

The judges were not to tolerate the planting ( Deuteronomy 16:21) of these trees or poles that were so common in Canaan that the people regarded them as a prominent part of the native culture. Judges customarily dispensed justice in the open space near the main gate of the towns. This area was the main congregating place of the community (cf. Ruth 4:1-12).


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Bibliography Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Deuteronomy 16:4". "Expository Notes of Dr. Thomas Constable". 2012.

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