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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible

Deuteronomy 14

 

 

Introduction

The Covenant Stipulations, Covenant Making at Shechem, Blessings and Cursings (Deuteronomy 12:1 to Deuteronomy 29:1).

In this section of Deuteronomy we first have a description of specific requirements that Yahweh laid down for His people. These make up the second part of the covenant stipulations for the covenant expressed in Deuteronomy 4:45 to Deuteronomy 29:1 and also for the covenant which makes up the whole book. They are found in chapters 12-26. As we have seen Deuteronomy 1:1 to Deuteronomy 4:44 provide the preamble and historical prologue for the overall covenant, followed by the general stipulations in chapters 5-11. There now, therefore, in 12-26 follow the detailed stipulations which complete the main body of the covenant. These also continue the second speech of Moses which began in Deuteronomy 5:1.

Overall in this speech Moses is concerned to connect with the people. It is to the people that his words are spoken rather than the priests so that much of the priestly legislation is simply assumed. Indeed it is remarkably absent in Deuteronomy except where it directly touches on the people. Anyone who read Deuteronomy on its own would wonder at the lack of cultic material it contained, and at how much the people were involved. It concentrates on their interests, and not those of the priests and Levites, while acknowledging the responsibility that they had towards both priests and Levites.

And even where the cultic legislation more specifically connects with the people, necessary detail is not given, simply because he was aware that they already had it in writing elsewhere. Their knowledge of it is assumed. Deuteronomy is building on a foundation already laid. In it Moses was more concerned to get over special aspects of the legislation as it was specifically affected by entry into the land, with the interests of the people especially in mind. The suggestion that it was later written in order to bring home a new law connected with the Temple does not fit in with the facts. Without the remainder of the covenant legislation in Exodus/Leviticus/Numbers to back it up, its presentation often does not make sense from a cultic point of view.

This is especially brought home by the fact that when he refers to their approach to God he speaks of it in terms of where they themselves stood or will stand when they do approach Him. They stand not on Sinai but in Horeb. They stand not in the Sanctuary but in ‘the place’, the site of the Sanctuary. That is why he emphasises Horeb, which included the area before the Mount, and not just Sinai itself (which he does not mention). And why he speaks of ‘the place’ which Yahweh chose, which includes where the Tabernacle is sited and where they gather together around the Tabernacle, and not of the Sanctuary itself. He wants them to feel that they have their full part in the whole.

These detailed stipulations in chapters 12-26 will then be followed by the details of the covenant ceremony to take place at the place which Yahweh has chosen at Shechem (Deuteronomy 27), followed by blessings and cursings to do with the observance or breach of the covenant (Deuteronomy 28).

I. INSTRUCTION WITH REGARD TO WORSHIP AND RIGHTNESS BEFORE YAHWEH (Deuteronomy 12:1 to Deuteronomy 16:17).

In this first group of regulations in Deuteronomy 12:1 to Deuteronomy 16:7 emphasis is laid on proper worship and rightness before Yahweh, looked at from the people’s point of view. They include:

· Regulations with regard to the Central Sanctuary as the one place where Yahweh is to be officially worshipped with emphasis on the people’s side of things and their participation. They are to worship there joyfully (Deuteronomy 12).

· Regulations with regard to avoidance of idolatry as it affects the people lest they lose their cause for joy (Deuteronomy 13).

· Regulations for the people with regard to ritual wholeness and cleanness so that they might reveal themselves as suited to worship joyfully in the place which Yahweh would choose (Deuteronomy 14:1-21).

· Regulations for the people with regard to tithing mainly ignoring levitical aspects (Deuteronomy 14:22-27). Here they were to share their joy with others who would thus be able to rejoice with them.

· Regulations with regard to poverty as a slur on Yahweh (Deuteronomy 14:28 to Deuteronomy 15:11). This was to be allayed by a special use of the tithe every third year and a release from debt every seventh year. To allow unrelieved poverty in the land would prevent their being able to approach Yahweh with joy and to enjoy His prosperity.

· Regulations with regard to Israelite Habiru bondsmen and bondswomen and how they were to be their treated (Deuteronomy 15:12-18). Again the emphasis is on generosity towards those whose need was greatest.

· Regulations with regard to firstlings, who represented their own relief from bondage, with the emphasis on their being Yahweh’s and thus to be royally treated, and to be eaten joyfully in the place which Yahweh would choose. The emphasis is on the people’s participation (Deuteronomy 15:19-23).

· Regulations with regard to the three main feasts, with emphasis on the fact that they must be eaten at the place which Yahweh will choose and that the last two of them must be celebrated joyfully, again with the emphasis on the people’s participation throughout (Deuteronomy 16:1-17).

But central to it all is the Central Sanctuary, the place where Yahweh sets His name. The place where He meets with His people, and they with Him, and the need for them to be in the right spirit so as to do so joyfully.

Chapter 14 The Call To Walk Worthy of Being His People.

This chapter covers the need for His people to remember who they were and to walk worthily of Him, and be fit to worship Him and come to the place that Yahweh has chosen to dwell in. They were not to follow customs that were tainted because of their significance. In their eating and their lives they were to avoid all that was ‘unclean’ (as defined) and might defile them, and all unsavoury practises. Their lives were to aim at what was positive. This was because they were His children, and a holy people set apart as His own treasured possession (Deuteronomy 14:3-21). Comparison should be made here with Leviticus 11. But while they must abjure all that was tainted they were especially to eat of a portion of the tithes, that which had been offered to Yahweh, as a holy feast before Him (Deuteronomy 14:22-29). That was good. Such times were to be the highlights of their year.

So the chapter ends with the feasting at the place chosen by Yahweh where He dwells among them, bringing us back to the thought of Deuteronomy 12 where this has previously been expressed. What is prescribed here is to be seen as closely involved with the sanctuary. In the end everything comes back to God. In the same way Deuteronomy 15 will end with reference to the firstlings, a further means of bringing us back to the feasting of Deuteronomy 12, and this is prior to the description of the three main feasts of Yahweh at the place which Yahweh will choose as a dwellingplace in Deuteronomy 16. Thus the whole section from Deuteronomy 12:1 to Deuteronomy 16:17 is built up around the worship of Yahweh in His presence at His chosen place and is important with respect to it.

Part of this passage is a clear representation of the ideas in Leviticus 11, but abbreviated in order not to be too turgid. It is in speech form. Consider how he refers to eating ‘clean winged creatures’ with no explanation, requiring the kind of explanation found in Leviticus 11:21-22, and avoids the more complicated aspects of uncleanness found there. This connection with a speech is also apparent from the way the theme is introduced.

Thus the first point in the part referring to cleanness is the general apodictic commandment that ‘you shall not eat any abominable thing’, which is then expanded on. The word ‘abominable’ is strong. It is used in Deuteronomy 7:25; Deuteronomy 12:31 of what is totally despicable. It is what God hates. Thus he will deal here with what is abominable, and defiles Yahweh’s holy people. But why are they abominable? Because they are ‘unclean’, they do not live within their proper spheres, they enter into and eat in unclean places, they nuzzle in the dust to which the serpent was condemned, they are scavengers and/or killers and eat the forbidden blood. They are totally unholy. They are not worthy of Yahweh. To eat them is to bring dishonour on His name and partake in their disreputableness. The principle inculcates a pure attitude towards life.

It should not surprise us if animals which nuzzled in the dust, and reptiles and creatures that lived in the dust and never rose above it were seen as especially unclean, and even more ‘creeping things’, for the dust is what man who dies will return to. It is the dust of death (Psalms 22:15; Psalms 22:29; Psalms 30:9; Psalms 104:29; Ecclesiastes 3:20; Daniel 12:2). To ‘cleave to the dust’ was considered to be the same as dying (Psalms 119:25). It was a world of death. And while the curse was partly relieved by God’s covenant with Noah as far as man was concerned (Genesis 9:21), which might explain why grazing land and arable land could be seen as ‘clean’ (it must have been seen as clean for it fed clean animals), it certainly did not remove the whole curse. Thorns and thistles are still man’s bain. The earth is still man’s adversary and seeks ever to return to the wild or to desert. And all this was closely linked with death (Genesis 3:19; Genesis 5:5), which was the final sentence.

The basic principle of what creatures are clean and unclean is fairly simple, although in detail it becomes more complicated. What is clean is what is wholesome. It does not grovel in the dust of death. It avoids unwholesome places. It eats hygienically. We must remember that it deals with the wilderness and with Palestine on the basis of a simple understanding of nature, and with general easily distinguishable principles. It was how things were in general seen. It was intended to be practical. It was not intended to cover worldwide natural science or be specific as to detail. Thus cattle and their equivalent eat grass and vegetation, and walk and feed in places less likely to be ‘unclean’ or to be infected by parasites and death. They keep to their proper sphere. In general all other animals do not.

Its purpose was not as a medical guide, although it would certainly help to prevent diseases, but was in order to increase Israel’s self esteem and sense of holiness so that they aimed high in their lives. They were being made aware that they were a holy people, who therefore only partook of what was superior and of what kept to its proper sphere, as they must themselves keep to their proper sphere. What mattered with regard to the differentiations was not the facts of natural science but how things were perceived. It was encouraging a pure attitude of mind.

Thus the animals which were clean were seen to chew extensively (translated ‘chewed the cud’) and had cloven feet. All knew that they ate what was clean and, limited by their feet, tended to go where it was clean. They did not eat blood. They were not predators. They did not nuzzle in the dirt. They avoided unclean places. The fish that were clean swam and ate in the flowing water, not at the bottom of the river. The birds that were clean flew and ate insects or corn. They did not delve in dirt and dust (compare Psalms 22:15; Psalms 22:29; Psalms 30:9; Psalms 104:29; Ecclesiastes 3:20; Daniel 12:2). They did not eat carrion or kill their own kind, or eat blood, or gather food from the mud. The insects that were clean leaped above the ground, not grovelled in it. They all illustrate the walk in wholesomeness of the people of God. They all kept to their ‘proper sphere’ and avoided the ‘dust of death’.

What follows from this is that they were least likely to cause disease, which was another good reason for avoiding them, but that was not the central point, although it probably played a part. It was not in that sense a divine indication that all other creatures were not edible, only that avoiding them would as a whole be to their benefit. Some were certainly known by them to have been closely connected with the worship of false gods, but the ox bull could be eaten and yet was connected with Canaanite religion (although that may simply have been overridden by custom). There may have been something of both these in the conception of uncleanness, but mainly the principle was one of wholesomeness and unwholesomeness.

This explains why the cleanness of animals is connected with Deuteronomy 14:1 which refers to deliberate disfigurements. Yahweh’s people were called on to be wholesome in every way, wholesome without and wholesome within.

Analysis based on the words of Moses:

a Sons of Yahweh your God you are. You shall not cut yourselves, nor make any baldness between your eyes for the dead (Deuteronomy 14:1).

b For a holy people you are to Yahweh your God, and Yahweh has chosen you to be a people for His own possession, above all peoples that are on the face of the earth (Deuteronomy 14:2).

c You shall not eat any abominable thing (Deuteronomy 14:3).

d These are the beasts which you (ye) may eat: the ox, the sheep, and the goat, the hart, and the gazelle, and the roebuck, and the wild goat, and the ibex, and the antelope, and the chamois (Deuteronomy 14:4-5).

e And every beast that parts the hoof, and has the hoof cloven in two, and chews the cud, among the beasts, that may you eat (Deuteronomy 14:6).

f Nevertheless these you shall not eat, of them that chew the cud, or of those who have the hoof cloven, the camel, and the hare, and the rock badger, because they chew the cud but do not part the hoof, they are unclean to you, and the swine, because he parts the hoof but does not chew the cud, he is unclean to you. Of their flesh you shall not eat, and their carcasses you shall not touch (Deuteronomy 14:7-8).

f These you may eat of all that are in the waters: whatever has fins and scales you may eat, and whatever does not have fins and scales you shall not eat; it is unclean to you (Deuteronomy 14:9-10).

e Of all clean birds you may eat (Deuteronomy 14:11).

d But these are they of which you (ye) shall not eat: the griffon vulture, and the bearded vulture, and the osprey, and the glede, and the falcon, and the kite after its kind, and every raven after its kind, and the ostrich, and the night-hawk, and the sea-mew, and the hawk after its kind, the little owl, and the great owl, and the horned owl, and the pelican, and the black vulture, and the cormorant, and the stork, and the heron after its kind, and the hoopoe, and the bat (Deuteronomy 14:12-18)

c And all winged creeping things are unclean to you: they shall not be eaten. Of all clean ‘winged creatures’ (or ‘birds’) you may eat (Deuteronomy 14:19-20).

b You shall not eat of anything that dies of itself: you may give it to the resident alien who is within your gates, that he may eat it; or you may sell it to a foreigner, for you are a holy people to Yahweh your God (Deuteronomy 14:21 a).

a You shall not boil a kid in its mother’s milk (Deuteronomy 14:22).

Note with respect to ‘a’ that sons of Yahweh their God they were, and they were not to cut themselves, nor make any baldness between their eyes for the dead (religious rites), and in the parallel they were not to boil a kid in its mother’s milk (son of a goat it was). This parallel suggests that the boiling of a kid in its mother’s milk was also a religious rite. In ‘b’ Israel are a holy people to Yahweh their God, and Yahweh has chosen them to be a people for His own possession, above all peoples that are on the face of the earth and in the parallel they may not eat of anything that dies of itself (for they are His own possession), but they may give it to the resident alien who is within their gates, that he may eat it or they may sell it to a foreigner (the people on the face of the earth), for they are a holy people to Yahweh their God. In ‘c’ they may not eat any abominable thing and in the parallel all winged creeping things (which are abominable things - Leviticus 11:43; Ezekiel 8:10) are unclean to them. In ‘d’ is a list of beast that can be eaten and in the parallel a list of birds which cannot be eaten. In ‘e’ they may eat of all clean beasts and in the parallel they may eat of all clean birds. In ‘f’ there is a list of animals they may not eat, and in the parallel a list of fish that they may eat.


Verse 1-2

Chapter 14 The Call To Walk Worthy of Being His People.

This chapter covers the need for His people to remember who they were and to walk worthily of Him, and be fit to worship Him and come to the place that Yahweh has chosen to dwell in. They were not to follow customs that were tainted because of their significance. In their eating and their lives they were to avoid all that was ‘unclean’ (as defined) and might defile them, and all unsavoury practises. Their lives were to aim at what was positive. This was because they were His children, and a holy people set apart as His own treasured possession (Deuteronomy 14:3-21). Comparison should be made here with Leviticus 11. But while they must abjure all that was tainted they were especially to eat of a portion of the tithes, that which had been offered to Yahweh, as a holy feast before Him (Deuteronomy 14:22-29). That was good. Such times were to be the highlights of their year.

So the chapter ends with the feasting at the place chosen by Yahweh where He dwells among them, bringing us back to the thought of Deuteronomy 12 where this has previously been expressed. What is prescribed here is to be seen as closely involved with the sanctuary. In the end everything comes back to God. In the same way Deuteronomy 15 will end with reference to the firstlings, a further means of bringing us back to the feasting of Deuteronomy 12, and this is prior to the description of the three main feasts of Yahweh at the place which Yahweh will choose as a dwellingplace in Deuteronomy 16. Thus the whole section from Deuteronomy 12:1 to Deuteronomy 16:17 is built up around the worship of Yahweh in His presence at His chosen place and is important with respect to it.

Part of this passage is a clear representation of the ideas in Leviticus 11, but abbreviated in order not to be too turgid. It is in speech form. Consider how he refers to eating ‘clean winged creatures’ with no explanation, requiring the kind of explanation found in Leviticus 11:21-22, and avoids the more complicated aspects of uncleanness found there. This connection with a speech is also apparent from the way the theme is introduced.

Thus the first point in the part referring to cleanness is the general apodictic commandment that ‘you shall not eat any abominable thing’, which is then expanded on. The word ‘abominable’ is strong. It is used in Deuteronomy 7:25; Deuteronomy 12:31 of what is totally despicable. It is what God hates. Thus he will deal here with what is abominable, and defiles Yahweh’s holy people. But why are they abominable? Because they are ‘unclean’, they do not live within their proper spheres, they enter into and eat in unclean places, they nuzzle in the dust to which the serpent was condemned, they are scavengers and/or killers and eat the forbidden blood. They are totally unholy. They are not worthy of Yahweh. To eat them is to bring dishonour on His name and partake in their disreputableness. The principle inculcates a pure attitude towards life.

It should not surprise us if animals which nuzzled in the dust, and reptiles and creatures that lived in the dust and never rose above it were seen as especially unclean, and even more ‘creeping things’, for the dust is what man who dies will return to. It is the dust of death (Psalms 22:15; Psalms 22:29; Psalms 30:9; Psalms 104:29; Ecclesiastes 3:20; Daniel 12:2). To ‘cleave to the dust’ was considered to be the same as dying (Psalms 119:25). It was a world of death. And while the curse was partly relieved by God’s covenant with Noah as far as man was concerned (Genesis 9:21), which might explain why grazing land and arable land could be seen as ‘clean’ (it must have been seen as clean for it fed clean animals), it certainly did not remove the whole curse. Thorns and thistles are still man’s bain. The earth is still man’s adversary and seeks ever to return to the wild or to desert. And all this was closely linked with death (Genesis 3:19; Genesis 5:5), which was the final sentence.

The basic principle of what creatures are clean and unclean is fairly simple, although in detail it becomes more complicated. What is clean is what is wholesome. It does not grovel in the dust of death. It avoids unwholesome places. It eats hygienically. We must remember that it deals with the wilderness and with Palestine on the basis of a simple understanding of nature, and with general easily distinguishable principles. It was how things were in general seen. It was intended to be practical. It was not intended to cover worldwide natural science or be specific as to detail. Thus cattle and their equivalent eat grass and vegetation, and walk and feed in places less likely to be ‘unclean’ or to be infected by parasites and death. They keep to their proper sphere. In general all other animals do not.

Its purpose was not as a medical guide, although it would certainly help to prevent diseases, but was in order to increase Israel’s self esteem and sense of holiness so that they aimed high in their lives. They were being made aware that they were a holy people, who therefore only partook of what was superior and of what kept to its proper sphere, as they must themselves keep to their proper sphere. What mattered with regard to the differentiations was not the facts of natural science but how things were perceived. It was encouraging a pure attitude of mind.

Thus the animals which were clean were seen to chew extensively (translated ‘chewed the cud’) and had cloven feet. All knew that they ate what was clean and, limited by their feet, tended to go where it was clean. They did not eat blood. They were not predators. They did not nuzzle in the dirt. They avoided unclean places. The fish that were clean swam and ate in the flowing water, not at the bottom of the river. The birds that were clean flew and ate insects or corn. They did not delve in dirt and dust (compare Psalms 22:15; Psalms 22:29; Psalms 30:9; Psalms 104:29; Ecclesiastes 3:20; Daniel 12:2). They did not eat carrion or kill their own kind, or eat blood, or gather food from the mud. The insects that were clean leaped above the ground, not grovelled in it. They all illustrate the walk in wholesomeness of the people of God. They all kept to their ‘proper sphere’ and avoided the ‘dust of death’.

What follows from this is that they were least likely to cause disease, which was another good reason for avoiding them, but that was not the central point, although it probably played a part. It was not in that sense a divine indication that all other creatures were not edible, only that avoiding them would as a whole be to their benefit. Some were certainly known by them to have been closely connected with the worship of false gods, but the ox bull could be eaten and yet was connected with Canaanite religion (although that may simply have been overridden by custom). There may have been something of both these in the conception of uncleanness, but mainly the principle was one of wholesomeness and unwholesomeness.

This explains why the cleanness of animals is connected with Deuteronomy 14:1 which refers to deliberate disfigurements. Yahweh’s people were called on to be wholesome in every way, wholesome without and wholesome within.

Analysis based on the words of Moses:

a Sons of Yahweh your God you are. You shall not cut yourselves, nor make any baldness between your eyes for the dead (Deuteronomy 14:1).

b For a holy people you are to Yahweh your God, and Yahweh has chosen you to be a people for His own possession, above all peoples that are on the face of the earth (Deuteronomy 14:2).

c You shall not eat any abominable thing (Deuteronomy 14:3).

d These are the beasts which you (ye) may eat: the ox, the sheep, and the goat, the hart, and the gazelle, and the roebuck, and the wild goat, and the ibex, and the antelope, and the chamois (Deuteronomy 14:4-5).

e And every beast that parts the hoof, and has the hoof cloven in two, and chews the cud, among the beasts, that may you eat (Deuteronomy 14:6).

f Nevertheless these you shall not eat, of them that chew the cud, or of those who have the hoof cloven, the camel, and the hare, and the rock badger, because they chew the cud but do not part the hoof, they are unclean to you, and the swine, because he parts the hoof but does not chew the cud, he is unclean to you. Of their flesh you shall not eat, and their carcasses you shall not touch (Deuteronomy 14:7-8).

f These you may eat of all that are in the waters: whatever has fins and scales you may eat, and whatever does not have fins and scales you shall not eat; it is unclean to you (Deuteronomy 14:9-10).

e Of all clean birds you may eat (Deuteronomy 14:11).

d But these are they of which you (ye) shall not eat: the griffon vulture, and the bearded vulture, and the osprey, and the glede, and the falcon, and the kite after its kind, and every raven after its kind, and the ostrich, and the night-hawk, and the sea-mew, and the hawk after its kind, the little owl, and the great owl, and the horned owl, and the pelican, and the black vulture, and the cormorant, and the stork, and the heron after its kind, and the hoopoe, and the bat (Deuteronomy 14:12-18)

c And all winged creeping things are unclean to you: they shall not be eaten. Of all clean ‘winged creatures’ (or ‘birds’) you may eat (Deuteronomy 14:19-20).

b You shall not eat of anything that dies of itself: you may give it to the resident alien who is within your gates, that he may eat it; or you may sell it to a foreigner, for you are a holy people to Yahweh your God (Deuteronomy 14:21 a).

a You shall not boil a kid in its mother’s milk (Deuteronomy 14:22).

Note with respect to ‘a’ that sons of Yahweh their God they were, and they were not to cut themselves, nor make any baldness between their eyes for the dead (religious rites), and in the parallel they were not to boil a kid in its mother’s milk (son of a goat it was). This parallel suggests that the boiling of a kid in its mother’s milk was also a religious rite. In ‘b’ Israel are a holy people to Yahweh their God, and Yahweh has chosen them to be a people for His own possession, above all peoples that are on the face of the earth and in the parallel they may not eat of anything that dies of itself (for they are His own possession), but they may give it to the resident alien who is within their gates, that he may eat it or they may sell it to a foreigner (the people on the face of the earth), for they are a holy people to Yahweh their God. In ‘c’ they may not eat any abominable thing and in the parallel all winged creeping things (which are abominable things - Leviticus 11:43; Ezekiel 8:10) are unclean to them. In ‘d’ is a list of beast that can be eaten and in the parallel a list of birds which cannot be eaten. In ‘e’ they may eat of all clean beasts and in the parallel they may eat of all clean birds. In ‘f’ there is a list of animals they may not eat, and in the parallel a list of fish that they may eat.

Deuteronomy 14:1

Sons of Yahweh your God you (ye) are. You shall not cut yourselves, nor make any baldness between your eyes for the dead.’

The first forbidden thing is unwholesome religious practises. Because they were ‘the sons of Yahweh their God’ (emphasised by being placed first in the sentence) they must not disfigure themselves. They were made in the image of God. So deliberate disfigurement was frowned on by Yahweh, and forbidden to His holy people. They must honour their God created bodies. We call to mind how an offering could not be made to Yahweh of what was blemished. They too must not blemish themselves. So they must neither cut themselves nor shave off their hair in unusual places. These were regular mourning practises in Canaan and elsewhere, testified to at Ugarit, and may have had deep religious significance (see Leviticus 19:27-28, and compare Isaiah 3:24; Isaiah 15:2; Isaiah 22:12; Jeremiah 16:6; Jeremiah 41:5; Ezekiel 7:18; Amos 8:10; Micah 1:16). They were not to be carried out by His people.

Leviticus 19:27-28 also forbade cutting the flesh of, and printing marks on, His people. All forms of tattoos and tribal markings, together with significant hair shaving, were seen as simply disfiguring, if not blasphemous. They were contrary to Yahweh’s holiness, and to His possession of His people.

We note here in this strange (to us) context a stress on Israel’s sonship, a concept we have noticed earlier (Deuteronomy 1:31; Deuteronomy 8:5; compare Exodus 4:23). Israel as a whole was seen by Yahweh as His firstborn son, and He was as a Father to them. They must therefore do nothing to discredit the family name, or give the impression of belonging to any other. This is not a universal fatherhood of God. It is specifically indicating that it is those whom Yahweh has chosen, and on whom He has set His love (chapters 6-7), who are His children, and to whom He is Father. He is Father to those who have come within His covenant.

As early as the third and second millennia BC we find the deity addressed as father, for we find this title for the first time in Sumerian prayers, long before the time of Moses and the prophets, and there already the word "father" does not merely refer to the deity as powerful lord, and as procreator and ancestor of the king and of the people, but it also has quite another significance, and is used for the "merciful, gracious father, in whose hand the life of the whole land lies" (a hymn from Ur to the moon god Sin). But there the father was rather like a mother figure mothering her young, whereas to Israel Yahweh was the One Who in His authority had called them and in His love had prepared for them an inheritance. He would watch over them and in return they were to do His bidding.

There are good grounds for seeing from this that for the true child of God disfiguring the body with tattoos and piercings is frowned on by God. It is to dishonour His special creation and to demonstrate an attitude which is the opposite of consecration to Him.

Note in the analysis how this contrasts with the son of a goat (kid) boiled in its mother’s milk. It does serve to bring out that God is concerned about all creatures. ‘Uncleanness’ is not a condemnation of the creatures but of the environment in which they live. They were a constant lesson that His people themselves should live in a pure environment, as we now go on to see.

Deuteronomy 14:2

For a holy people you (thou) are to Yahweh your God, and Yahweh has chosen you to be a people for his own possession, above all peoples that are on the face of the earth.’

And the reason for this was their unique status. They were a holy (set apart for Yahweh) people, chosen to be a people for His own possession. Compare Deuteronomy 7:6; Deuteronomy 26:18; Exodus 19:5. The word used here can signify the king’s treasure, for segulla means ‘prized highly’. See its use in 1 Chronicles 29:3; Ecclesiastes 2:8. Its Akkadian equivalent sikiltu was used in treaty seals to describe kings as special possessions of their gods. Israel, His own sons, were thus treasured above all peoples on the face of the earth, and must present themselves accordingly. No other possession mark must be on them other than what He has determined (the latter would be the sign of circumcision which they would soon be required to submit to, but was not suitable until they had entered the land). Just as He has chosen a place to be among them, so has He chosen them as His own sons and as His own possession to be holy to Him.

Deuteronomy 14:3

You (thou) shall not eat any abominable thing.’

That is why they must not eat any abominable thing. Nothing distasteful or demeaning or connected with unwholesome death must enter their bodies. As Yahweh’s own they must only eat of what is seen to be pure and good. Even their eating must reveal the purity of their lives. A list and description of what may and may not be eaten is then given. It commences with clean animals that can be used for offerings and sacrifices, followed by those which are clean and can be eaten, but cannot be offered as offerings and sacrifices, and moves on to clean fish and birds. The types, though not the sequence, are based on Genesis 1. In the parallel passage in Leviticus 11 the connection with Genesis is much more specific.


Verses 4-10

Deuteronomy 14:4

These are the beasts which you (ye) may eat: the ox, the sheep, and the goat,’

These are the animals which can be used for offerings and sacrifices. They are all domestic animals. They belong to the people (in contrast with wild animals which belong to Yahweh) and can be offered to God as an offering. Thus they are clearly right to eat.

Deuteronomy 14:5

The hart, and the gazelle, and the roebuck, and the wild goat, and the ibex, and the antelope, and the chamois.’

These are animals which can be hunted for game and eaten as ‘clean’, but cannot be offered as offerings and sacrifices, for as wild beasts they already belong to Yahweh (Psalms 50:10).

Deuteronomy 14:6

And every beast that parts the hoof, and has the hoof cloven in two, and chews the cud, among the beasts, that may you (ye) eat.’

The principle on which they are chosen is declared. They have the hoof cloven in two and ‘chew the cud’. How the latter was technically conceived we do not know, but the principle was that they ate slowly and deliberately, and took good time over eating their food, all of which was of a kind suitable for that purpose. (Thus it does not necessarily mean literally ‘chewing the cud’ by swallowing and regurgitating). The point is that they ate ‘proper food’. The make up of their feet meant that they tended to remain and eat on clean land, land good for growing crops and herbage, and not to wander into ‘unclean’ areas. The way they ate made them careful in what they ate. (The goat can be an exception to this, but probably not as herded by the Israelites).

Deuteronomy 14:7

Nevertheless these you shall not eat, of them that chew the cud, or of those who have the hoof cloven, the camel, and the hare, and the rock badger, because they chew the cud but do not part the hoof, they are unclean to you.’

Other animals which are seen as edible to other nations, were not to be seen as so to Israel. These animals may chew slowly and obviously, or they may have cloven feet, but they do not have both. Thus the camel’s feet enable it to wander in desert regions, where death is prevalent. Such regions were looked on with foreboding in Israel. The hare and the rock badger, while they chew slowly and deliberately, go into places which are ‘unclean’ because their feet enable them to scrabble and encourage them to do so. They are thus ‘unclean’.

Deuteronomy 14:8

And the swine, because he parts the hoof but does not chew the cud, he is unclean to you. Of their flesh you shall not eat, and their carcasses you shall not touch.’

The pig or swine is a further example. In this case it parts the hoof, but it does not chew slowly and deliberately. It nuzzles in the dirt and eats what is unsavoury. That a sow that was washed returned to its wallowing in the mire became a proverb, because that was how through the ages it was seen (2 Peter 2:22). It was therefore not seen as suitable food for Yahweh’s people.

That these distinctions would preserve Israel from many, although not all, diseases is unquestionable. But the overt point is not so much avoidance of disease as the fact of unsuitability, although the one merges into the other. Those that wandered in doubtful environments or nuzzled in the dust, both connected with death, must not be eaten. They did not keep to their proper sphere, whereas His people are constantly required to keep to their proper sphere within the covenant. In all cases the behaviour of unclean creatures was the opposite of what Yahweh was. And His people were to model their lives on what was wholesome. See commentary on Leviticus for further detailed treatment.

Deuteronomy 14:9-10

These you may eat of all that are in the waters: whatever has fins and scales you may eat, and whatever does not have fins and scales you shall not eat; it is unclean to you.’

The distinction with sea and river creatures is again clear and specific. All fish with fins and scales, of which they were aware, swam in the rivers but did not delve into the mud. These were thus ‘clean’. Other creatures did delve in the mud, and were therefore unclean. Again this was not a scientific survey but a fact of observation. This excluded some that were certainly edible, but included shellfish which under certain circumstances could cause unpleasant diseases. But what was most important as seen in this context was their contamination by their contact with dirt and mud.


Verses 11-20

Deuteronomy 14:11

Of all clean birds you may eat.’

Again the common birds such as the turtle-dove and pigeons could be eaten, along with many others. They flew in the air, and ate insects and seed. They kept to their proper sphere.

Deuteronomy 14:12-18

But these are they of which you (ye) shall not eat: the griffon vulture, and the bearded vulture, and the osprey, and the glede, and the falcon, and the kite after its kind, and every raven after its kind, and the ostrich, and the night-hawk, and the sea-mew, and the hawk after its kind, the little owl, and the great owl, and the horned owl, and the pelican, and the black vulture, and the cormorant, and the stork, and the heron after its kind, and the hoopoe, and the bat.’

But others were predators and ate carrion and blood. The ostrich, like the camel, wandered in desert regions, and was noted for her lack of care of her young and buried them in the dust of the earth (Job 39:13-18). The wading birds plunged their beaks into the mud. The bat came from dark secret places, and dwelt in tombs and burial places. All had about them that which was ‘unclean’.

This list is so close to that of Leviticus 11:13-19, even as to order, while expanding on it, that either one must be dependent on the other, or they must come from the same tradition. It could be explained by Leviticus 11:13-19 being in the memory of the speaker, but deliberately added to in speech, as the speaker thought of other similar birds, for in the end it is certain types of birds which must not be eaten, eaters of carrion, wading birds and the like.

Deuteronomy 14:19-20

And all winged creeping things are unclean to you: they shall not be eaten. Of all clean ‘winged creatures’ (or ‘birds’) you may eat.’

Winged creeping things were necessarily of the dirt and could not be eaten, but some winged creatures (such as the locust) did not crawl in the dirt but leaped on their legs (Leviticus 11:21). The word used for ‘winged creatures’ regularly means ‘bird’, and does so in the parallel passage in Leviticus. But here it is clearly connected with winged creeping things. Possibly therefore it must be seen to take its wider meaning of winged creatures, in view of the fact that a different word for birds is used in verse 11. On the other hand it may simply be an added assurance that they can eat clean birds.

In all this we see how God’s people were to avoid all that outwardly had about them the taint of their behaviour. They were only to eat of what rose above the things that defile. In essence they could eat what ‘keeps its proper sphere’. This would bring home to them by constant example that they too were to live uplifted and pure lives on the higher plane, which was their proper sphere. Thus would they be worthy of Yahweh.

Unquestionably by following these principles the Israelites would avoid many kinds of disease, but the primary aim was not that but in order to inculcate a proper principle of life, to live wholesomely.


Verse 21

Deuteronomy 14:21 a

‘You (ye) shall not eat of anything that dies of itself: you (thou) may give it to the resident alien who is within your gates, that he may eat it; or you may sell it to a foreigner, for you (thou) are a holy people to Yahweh your God.’

They must thus not eat of what dies of itself. What has died is already committed to Yahweh in death, and is lifeless, and is not suitable for them as a holy people to Yahweh their God, for He is the Lord of life. They must only eat that which has life, and of which they have been able to commit the blood, and in cases of things that died of themselves the blood would not have been properly dealt with. However resident aliens and foreigners were not a holy people, therefore such food could be given to the one or sold to the other. Note the distinction. The resident alien must be cared for, the foreigner must pay for what he gets.

“For you (thou) are a holy people to Yahweh your God.” This is also cited in Deuteronomy 14:2. In view of its placing in the analysis this is remarkable confirmation of the chiastic framework (otherwise why just here?) and doubly emphasises the holiness of His people.

Here their being a holy people contrasts with resident aliens and foreigners (both of whom are not proselytes, otherwise they would be ‘holy people’). Here then the stress is very much on the fact that Yahweh’s people keep to a pure environment and only eat what comes from it.

Deuteronomy 14:21 b

‘You (thou) shall not boil a kid in its mother’s milk.’

See Exodus 23:9; Exodus 34:26. Its being placed here connects with the idea that Israel are His holy people (just as verse 1 connects with Deuteronomy 14:2 and with Yahweh’s fatherhood of His people. Here though the son is of a clean beast. It is thus not to be put into an unsuitable environment. But the comparison with verse 1 would suggest that it has religious connections.

Whether this does refer to a pagan mystical practise, or is just seen as unseemly in view of the relationship between mother and kid is debated. For a kid to be boiled in the very milk which was supposed to feed it and be its source of life meant that it was not in its ‘proper sphere’. It would be an ‘unclean’ practise, and unwholesome. A person would have to be totally insensitive to do such a thing. So in view of the emphasis on outward appearance in this chapter the latter could well be the case. The example sometimes cited from Ugarit is of doubtful translation and relevance. But the way in which it is connected with the Passover in Exodus 23:19 with 15 may indicate a mystical and unacceptable practise (see commentary on that passage).

So the emphasis all through this passage has been on doing what is seemly, and avoiding all appearance of lowering themselves to the level of the world of predatorial beasts and birds, and creeping things, and death. Especially of avoiding all things that were seen as consigned to the dust to which the serpent had originally been consigned, and the avoidance of contact with the sphere of ‘the dust of death’. In Leviticus the connection with Genesis 1-3 is more apparent. They were to look Godward and not earthward. This would then protect them from disease and from idolatry, but equally importantly, from being unwholesome. The aim of such teaching was not only to prevent their eating what might physically harm them, but to give them an attitude to life that was pure.

The lesson for us is that our lives too should have the appearance of the heavenly. We too should abstain from all appearance of evil. We now have a different conception of creation so that the specific restrictions no longer apply, nor would they teach the same lessons to us as to those who lived so close to nature. What we are called on to avoid is rather the lowering of ourselves in the moral sphere. We too are thus to be ‘clean’.

Jesus, in another context, makes this clear. He stressed that it is what comes from men’s hearts that defiles (Mark 7:14-23), and must therefore be avoided. Acts 10:14-15 also demonstrates that nothing in creation is ‘unclean’ of itself. It becomes unclean by what it does. There is, of course, still the need to discriminate, but on a different basis depending on health risk.


Verses 22-27

The Highest Level Of Eating; That Which Is Their Gift To Yahweh (Deuteronomy 14:22-27).

In total contrast with what has gone before, the tithe is holy food. It has been set aside for Yahweh and is for the priests (a tenth of it), the Levites (a good proportion of it) and Yahweh’s ‘pensioners’, the widows, the orphans and the resident aliens, with some being made available at the religious feasts held at the Sanctuary, the place which Yahweh chooses.

So having listed those thing which may or may not be eaten, he goes on to deal with eating in its highest form, eating before Yahweh of that which is His. This is the purest form of eating. They can do this because they are ‘clean’. He ignores the tithing of the increase among animals, a practise which was now common among them and did not therefore need to be referred to, and proceeds to deal with what will be a relatively new phenomenon in the future, the tithing of crops and vegetation. The abundance of this which will be produced when they enter the land will result in an additional purpose for the tithe.

Tithing was common in many nations from ancient times. In the case of Israel the tithing law may originally simply have been refining an ancient practise customary in Israel, but he was now looking at it as it would apply once they were in the land and there were abundance of tithes from abundant harvests, far too much than was needed just by the Levites.

Analysis in the words of Moses:

a You shall surely tithe all the increase of your seed, that which comes forth from the field year by year (Deuteronomy 14:22).

b And you shall eat before Yahweh your God, in the place which He shall choose, to cause His name to dwell there, the tithe of your grain, of your new wine, and of your oil, and the firstlings of your herd and of your flock, that you may learn to fear Yahweh your God always (Deuteronomy 14:23).

c And if the way be too long for you, so that you are not able to carry it, because the place is too far from you which Yahweh your God shall choose, to set His name there, when Yahweh your God shall bless you (Deuteronomy 14:24).

c Then shall you turn it into money, and bind up the money in your hand, and shall go to the place which Yahweh your God shall choose (Deuteronomy 14:25).

b And you shall bestow the money for whatever your soul desires, for oxen, or for sheep, or for wine, or for strong drink, or for whatever your soul asks of you and you shall eat there before Yahweh your God, and you shall rejoice, you and your household (Deuteronomy 14:26).

a And the Levite who is within your gates, you shall not forsake him, for he has no portion nor inheritance with you (Deuteronomy 14:27).

Note in ‘a’ that they are to tithe their increase and in the parallel they are to see to the needs of the Levites who dwell among them for he does not have an inheritance among them. This setting in the analysis confirms that, as in Exodus, Leviticus and Numbers, the tithe is primarily for the Levites. In ‘b’ they are to eat their tithe and firstlings before Yahweh their God in the place which He chooses, and in the parallel those who live too far away may use their cash obtained as in Deuteronomy 14:25 and eat them before Yahweh their God. In ‘c’ if the way be too long from the place which Yahweh chooses, so that they would find it difficult to bear their tithes to the Sanctuary, they may in the parallel turn their tithes into cash and go to the place which Yahweh their God chooses.

Deuteronomy 14:22

You (thou) shall surely tithe all the increase of your seed, that which comes forth from the field year by year.’

(This whole section is ‘thou’).

This setting aside of a tenth has already been mentioned briefly in Deuteronomy 12:6; Deuteronomy 12:17, and was well established by the Law (Leviticus 27:30-33; Numbers 18:21-24). Now it is repeated. It will be required of them that they tithe all the increase of their seed which will come from their fields year by year. They have already got into the pattern of tithing the increase of their flocks and herds, but tithing seed has not been too common an experience for them. Wandering in the wilderness was not the best place for such activity, although they probably did at times remain in some places long enough to sow seed and see it grow. Thus when they possess the land and receive abundance they must ensure that they yield a proportion of its increase to Yahweh in accordance with the tithing (giving of a tenth) principle.

It will be noted that the chiasmus directly connects this with provision for the Levites (Deuteronomy 14:27) confirming what we have seen in exodus to Numbers.

Deuteronomy 14:23

And you shall eat before Yahweh your God, in the place which he shall choose, to cause his name to dwell there, the tithe of your grain, of your new wine, and of your oil, and the firstlings of your herd and of your flock, that you may learn to fear Yahweh your God always.’

And when the tithe was gathered some of it was to be eaten before Yahweh their God in the place which He has chosen to be, and where His name dwells in the Tabernacle so that they know that He is there. Within the holy area around that Tabernacle (‘the place’) they are permitted to partake of the tithe of grain and new wine and oil, of what belongs to Him. And there too they may partake of the firstlings of their herds and flocks, all of which are made holy to Yahweh.

It is quite clear from a consideration of the vast amount that would be involved that not all the tithes could be brought to the Tabernacle area once they were in the land. But that was not the intention, and the tithe of cattle and sheep is not even mentioned, unless it is seen as included in the reference to the firstlings (such tithing would certainly be required. Even from a practical point of view it is impossible to conceive that the grain farmers had to pay their tithes while the sheep farmers did not, or that anyone should suggest otherwise - see Leviticus 27:32 which confirms this). The intention here was that out of the tithed increase set apart for Yahweh, sufficient be brought for their feasting, which could be apportioned from their tithe, along with the firstlings. The remainder of the tithe would go to the Levites who were permitted to eat it anywhere (Numbers 18:31). The firstborn (bechor - masculine) were given to the priests and were at their disposal, but here it is made clear that some of the firstlings (bechorah - feminine, but probably covering all firstlings which were not seen as male ‘firstborn’) must be made available to those gathered at the feast. The priests and Levites in fact received an abundance of meat in one way or another, and this had probably already become the custom.

This was an expansion on the original purpose of the tithe arising as a result of the huge quantities that in future would be involved. It was now not only to be a means of maintaining the Levites, but was also to become a means of worship and eating in special thanksgiving.

Deuteronomy 14:24-26

And if the way be too long for you, so that you are not able to carry it, because the place is too far from you which Yahweh your God shall choose, to set his name there, when Yahweh your God shall bless you, then shall you turn it into money, and bind up the money in your hand, and shall go to the place which Yahweh your God shall choose, and you shall bestow the money for whatever your soul desires, for oxen, or for sheep, or for wine, or for strong drink, or for whatever your soul asks of you, and you shall eat there before Yahweh your God, and you shall rejoice, you and your household.’

Provision was, however, made for those who would have to bring such tithes a long way. To carry with them all the food for the feast would be a terrible burden. Thus they would be permitted to sell a portion of the tithe and take the money along to the feast where they would then be able to purchase sufficient for the feast. Then the whole household, and all the households present, would be able to feast to their heart’s desire with food obtained from the ample silver available from selling the tithe. This provision ties in with Leviticus 27:30-33 where the tithe could be redeemed for silver, although in that case it was being redeemed for general purposes and one fifth more than its value had to be paid, the whole then being passed to the Levites. Thus the fact that the tithe was Yahweh’s in both cases did not prevent it being dealt with in these ways. The silver became Yahweh’s instead.

Note the emphasis on the feast as being fully satisfying. The land is being portrayed as providing fullness of bliss. With Yahweh dwelling among them as He has chosen to do, how could it be otherwise? It is implanting the hope of a blessed future. It was in embryo pointing forward to the everlasting kingdom. Here more than anywhere else Israel was in its ‘proper sphere’. It was ‘clean’.

Deuteronomy 14:27

And the Levite who is within your gates, you shall not forsake him, for he has no portion nor inheritance with you.’

But it was important that they must not forget the Levites. Permission to use some of the tithe at the feast did not relieve them of their responsibility to the Levites. The Levites must receive of their tithes as usual. They must not be forsaken. For this was their inheritance from Yahweh (Numbers 18:21), and they had no other portion or inheritance in the land. The assumption underlying this is the standard practise of giving tithes to the Levites. But in a speech such as this the details do not have to be spelled out, all would know their significance (another evidence that these are the direct words of Moses).


Verse 28

Provision For Those In Need In The Land of Plenty (Deuteronomy 14:28 to Deuteronomy 15:6).

This section should be seen as a whole, and deals with thoughtfulness for the needy in the land of plenty. The whole is built on a seven year pattern, with a three year pattern incorporated. It probably means that on the third and sixth year of each seven year period the tithes had to be laid up for a special purpose. Otherwise there could come third years which conflicted with the seven years when no seed would have been grown. The way this is described without any introduction demonstrates that the seven year period was such an accepted fact based on Exodus 23:10-11; Leviticus 25:1-7 that it did not need to be defined.

Analysis in the words of Moses:

a At the end of every three years you shall bring forth all the tithe of your increase in the same year, and shall lay it up within your gates (Deuteronomy 14:28).

b And the Levite, because he has no portion nor inheritance with you, and the resident alien, and the fatherless, and the widow, that are within your gates, shall come, and shall eat and be satisfied, that Yahweh your God may bless you in all the work of your hand which you do (Deuteronomy 14:29).

c At the end of every seven years you shall make a release (literally ‘a letting go’; some translate ‘a postponement’) (Deuteronomy 15:1).

c And this is the manner of the release. Every creditor shall release that which he has lent to his neighbour; he shall not exact it of his neighbour and his brother, because Yahweh’s release has been proclaimed. Of a foreigner you may exact it, but whatever of yours is with your brother your hand shall release (Deuteronomy 15:2-3).

b Howbeit there shall be no poor with you, (for Yahweh will surely bless you in the land which Yahweh your God is giving to you for an inheritance to possess it), if only you diligently listen to the voice of Yahweh your God, to observe to do all this commandment which I command you this day, for Yahweh your God will bless you, as He promised you (Deuteronomy 15:4-6 a).

a And you shall lend to many nations, but you shall not borrow, and you shall rule over many nations, but they shall not rule over you (Deuteronomy 15:6 b).

Note that in ‘a’ they are to store up their tithes in their own cities each third year and in the parallel, as a result, they will be able to store up wealth by lending to the nations. In ‘b’ the stored tithes are for the Levite and the poor (widows, orphans and resident aliens) and the result is that Yahweh their God will bless them in all that they do, and in the parallel there will be no poor (because of Yahweh’s abundant provision) and Yahweh their God will bless them as He has promised them. In ‘c’ there is to be a release for poverty-stricken debtors every seven years, and in the parallel the way in which this release will be arranged is described.

Deuteronomy 14:28-29

At the end of every three years you shall bring forth all the tithe of your increase in the same year, and shall lay it up within your gates, and the Levite, because he has no portion nor inheritance with you, and the resident alien, and the fatherless, and the widow, that are within your gates, shall come, and shall eat and be satisfied, that Yahweh your God may bless you in all the work of your hand which you do.’

At the end of every three years the whole tithe of that year was to be laid up within their cities, and stored so as to feed the Levites and the poor of the land, including resident aliens, the fatherless, and widows. Each city was to provide for the needs of these types of people. This did not mean any lessening of the giving of the tithe to Yahweh, for the giver had to make a dedication to Yahweh of his tithe (Deuteronomy 26:12-15), but it gave it a wider purpose because of the greatly increased abundance of it. Even when all had eaten at the feasts, and all the Levites were satisfied, there would still be a surplus. Thus provision was now also made for the poor and needy.

In fact the Levites, as well as partaking, probably supervised the distribution over the three years or for as long as it lasted. In view of Deuteronomy 15:1 this would presumably have been seen as part of the seven year cycle, with the tithes gathered in the third and sixth year, and the ‘sabbath of rest to the land’ in the seventh, when all could go into the fields and gather what grew there for themselves (Leviticus 25:6). Together with the gleanings at other times this would ensure that these needy ones were reasonably provided for.

Note how the tithes have now become a part of the place which Yahweh will choose to put His name there. They have become the evidence of fullness of blessing and the cause of rejoicing before Yahweh. And that blessing and rejoicing would also reach out to the Levites and the poor. The idea of the tithes has not diminished but has grown more magnificent.

 


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Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Deuteronomy 14:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/deuteronomy-14.html. 2013.

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