The New Covenant…of Moses?

Introduction

Most Christians are familiar with what is known as the Moses (or Mosaic) Covenant, given to him for the nation of Israel by God at Mt. Sinai/Horeb following Israel’s redemption and exodus from Egypt. And, most think of this covenant as simply the Ten Commandments.  What we’re not so familiar with, however, is Moses’ prophecy of a New Covenant (Deu 29:1).  Or was it new?[i]

Here we’ll try to determine what was written by Moses in his scroll; what parts of those writings were simply the commandments given to him at Mt. Sinai/Horeb; what parts were new after Sinai/Horeb and the wanderings; and what in it prophesied an entirely new Covenant “in those days”.

What Was the Mosaic Covenant?

Many traditional Christians believe that the covenant, or law (Torah), or scroll, or book of Moses was the entirety of the Pentateuch – the first five books of the Bible.  But was it?  And did Moses really write all of it?

Biblical scholars, some as early as the early 1800s (e.g. W.M.L. de Wette), followed by others in the 19th and 20th centuries (e.g. notably Julius Wellhausen) attributed the books of the Pentateuch to different authors, leading to a 19th century theory called the “documentary hypothesis”: the idea that there were four separate authors of these five books (“E”, “J”, “P” and “D”), largely on the basis of textual criticism.  This theory has since largely been abandoned by Biblical scholars (as of the 1970s), but not entirely.

The conventional wisdom today is that, yes, there were multiple authors of the Pentateuch’s books (with each possibly authored by a single principal author) but into which was supplemented additional material, possibly by various authors, until that practice finally ceased probably sometime in the 6th century BC.

The Case for Deuteronomy

The name “Deuteronomy” is derived from a phrase in Deut. 17:18 of the Septuagint rendered in the English as “a copy of this law”, but in the Greek: “deuteros + nomos”; literally ‘second law’.  And in many respects it repeats laws we first find stated in the book of Exodus, as the table at the end of this note (borrowed from notes of teacher Steve Gregg) makes clear.[ii]

The book of Deuteronomy, however, has several distinctives that set it apart from its Pentateuch cohort:

  • First, it is the only book of the Torah that speaks in the first person. The first person speaker is represented as Moses.  All the other books of the Torah refer to Moses in the third person voice each and every time.  It would be quite unusual for Moses to refer to himself in four books of the Pentateuch in third person, but first person in Deuteronomy[iii].
  • Deuteronomy uses the expression “with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might/everything.” (Deu 6:5, Deu 26:16, Deu 30:6) which is picked up hundreds of years later in the reign of King Josiah (2 Kings 23:25). No other book of the Pentateuch uses this phrase.  (King Josiah is about to play a special role w/r/t the Scroll of Moses, as we shall see below (Moses’ Torah: Lost … and Rediscovered).
  • Deuteronomy speaks of Moses ”teaching” Israel God’s commandments so that they will “learn” them and “do them” (Deu 4:1, 4:5-6, 14, 5:1, 31, 6:1). This phrasing is unique to Deuteronomy.
  • The command to burn and beat to dust objects of worship to false gods (Deu 7:5, 25, 12:3) later carried out (2 Kings 23:6,12,15) by Josiah, is unique to Deuteronomy.
  • Deuteronomy is unique among the books of the Pentateuch in prophesying that God will exile Israel to the nations, removing them from their land (Deu 4:25-27. 11:17, 28:36, 29:27). Leviticus contains a single verse (26:33) that gives their “scattering” as a curse if Israel disobeys God.  However, Deuteronomy actually predicts their disobedience and exile.

This list is far from exhaustive, but these distinctives of the book give evidence of its authorship by someone different than the authors of the other books of the Torah, and its first person voice, identified as Moses, supports the presumption that Moses, indeed, was its author.[iv]

One of the things we know about Moses’ scroll is that when it was read aloud to Israel (again, ultimately, after Moab – see below), it took about 5-6 hours.  In Nehemiah 8 we read that Ezra read the Moses scroll to Israel:

[3] And he read from it facing the square before the Water Gate from early morning until midday, in the presence of the men and the women and those who could understand. And the ears of all the people were attentive to the Book of the Law.

From this we know that what is called the “book” or “scroll” or the law/Torah of Moses isn’t what we today call the Torah or the Pentateuch – the first five books of the Hebrew Bible, as their reading aloud takes some 30 hours or so.  We’re after something maybe 1/5 or 1/6 that size; something about the size of Deuteronomy.

Most current scholars, though not identifying a specific author of the book (i.e. the “Deuteronomist”) see the Book of Deuteronomy as the core of the Law portion of the Torah. But, Deuteronomy is, above all, a covenantal scroll.

So when we go looking for the “scroll of Moses” (Exodus 17:14, Joshua 8:31, etc.), the “book of (the law of) Moses” (Joshua 23:6, 2 Chron 25:4, 35:12,etc.), the “law of Moses” (2 Chron 30:16, Joshua 8:32, Deu 4:44, 1 Kings 2:3, 2 Kings 23:25, 2 Chron 23:18, 2 Chron 30:16, Ezra 3:2, 7:6), the “commandment of Moses” (2 Chron 8:13), the “Book of Moses” (2 Chron 35:12, Ezra 6:18, Ne 13:1), we’ll need to focus on the Book of Deuteronomy.

Different Than the Sinai/Horeb Covenant

The historical setting for Deuteronomy is the end of Israel’s forty year wandering in the wilderness following their Sinai debacle, when they are camped in the land of Moab just across the Jordan Valley from Israel.  So its recitation of laws includes both those given to Israel at Mt. Horeb (as the author of Deuteronomy consistently calls it), and some that are new to Israel.

In Deu 5:1-5[v] God announces he’s going to give Moses a different covenant (there in Moab 30+ years after Mt. Horeb) than was given to their fathers:

[3] Not with our fathers did the LORD make this covenant, but with us, who are all of us here alive today.

So Moses is going to give them the words of a Torah (law) that are in addition to those given to their fathers at Sinai, whether to them publicly there (the Ten Commandments), or separately to Moses.  This distinction is highlighted again in Deu 10, 11 and Deu 29:1

[29:1] These are the words of the covenant that the LORD commanded Moses to make with the people of Israel in the land of Moab, besides the covenant that he had made with them at Horeb.

The context here is laid out in Deu 10 in which Moses relates how the current generation of Israel, those he’s talking to, hadn’t seen any of the mighty works of God against Pharaoh and the Egyptians and hadn’t been there when the Ten Words were delivered to them on stone tablets.  As they are descendants of the Exodus generation, they’re a brand new audience, and Moses has some new words of God to give them.

A surprising statement about these new words is found in Deu 29:14-15.

[14] It is not with you alone that I am making this sworn covenant, [15] but with whoever is standing here with us today before the LORD our God, and with whoever is not here with us today.

This new covenant Moses is announcing is not only for the tribes of Israel there that day, but for anyone else with them (i.e. “sojourners”), and also for “whoever is not here with us today.”  There is ambiguity in this later statement: does he mean not with us here today at this location of the reading of the scroll, or temporally not with us – meaning also for their future generations?  Certainly the later understanding is consistent with God’s grace to the nation of Israel.  For example, In Deu 7:9 Moses says:

Know therefore that the LORD your God is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, to a thousand generations,

But the English statement is ambiguous enough that the possibility, at least, exists that he’s talking about non-Israelites as well, though there’s nothing in the Hebrew text that implies other than Israel.  It should also be noted that this is a very unconventional way of referring to the descendants of Israel.  More typical would be a phrase like he uses, above: “to a thousand generations.”

Of course what we today think of as the Mosaic Covenant is the Covenant God gave to Moses at Horeb/Sinai.  It was made with the Exodus generation of Israel, who have now died off.  But here God discloses that His covenant given to Moses at Moab is different than that, in at least this one significant way: it is no longer exclusive to the Israel within his hearing, but is also for “whoever is not here with us today.”   This becomes quite important later.

Moses’ Torah: Lost … and Rediscovered

Throughout Deuteronomy we find God’s admonition to read the law He had given Moses to all the people of Israel so that they will all “hear” it, “learn” it, “guard” (or “keep”) it and “do” it.  God prescribed that His law was to be read to all the people every seven years.

Deu 31:7 – Read the words of this Torah at the end of every 7 years to all of Israel so that they “hear, and learn to fear YHWH.”

However, it seems likely this failed to happen.

When he had finished it, we find Moses’ Torah scroll being placed “beside” (6654. צַד ṣad, tsad) the Ark of the Covenant (Deu 31:26) by the Levites.  Scholars debate what this means, physically.  Did the Levites lay it next to the Ark?  Did they stuff it into some compartment on the side of the Ark?  What we are told is that the only things inside the Ark were the two stone tablets written by God (Ex 25:16, 2 Chron 5:10).  (It’s assumed that God’s instruction to preserve a jar of manna (Ex 16:2) meant within the Ark, as did His instruction to “put back the staff of  Aaron before” (or “in front of”) “the testimony” (Nu 17:10).  The writer of Hebrews assumed these three objects were in the Ark (9:3-4).)  Nowhere, alas, do we read of Moses’ Torah being inside the Ark.

Some 800 years later (622 BC), Josiah, a reformer in the line of David, was named King and as part of his reforms he orders that the Temple, which had fallen into disrepair and deterioration, be restored.  In 2 Chron 34:14-15 we read the following:

[14] While they were bringing out the money that had been brought into the house of the LORD, Hilkiah the priest found the Book of the Law of the LORD given through Moses. [15] Then Hilkiah answered and said to Shaphan the secretary, “I have found the Book of the Law in the house of the LORD.” And Hilkiah gave the book to Shaphan[vi].

Let this sink in for a moment.  God had commanded the leaders and priests of Israel to read Moses’ Torah to the people every seven years – so that they would “hear, learn, guard (keep) and do” what it said.  But here we find out that they hadn’t even seen it for 800 years.

It is hard to imagine how this was even possible[vii].  How did David and Solomon reign not having Moses’ commandments?  How did Samuel prophesy without the aid of Moses’ Torah?  They must have had some oral tradition of many of the sayings and history it contained.  But surely that oral tradition would have contained a statement like “YHWH gave Moses His Torah”.  Wouldn’t it seem logical to then ask: “Well, then where is it?”

What Do We Know Was in the Scroll/Law/Torah/Book of Moses?

Can we determine what was in the scroll of Moses – the law/Torah dictated to him by YHWH?

We can conclude that the scroll repeated the commandments recorded in other books of the Pentateuch as given at Horeb.  Malachi, in 4:4, knew about this recapitulation:

[4] “Remember the law of my servant Moses, the statutes and rules that I commanded him at Horeb for all Israel.

And, sure enough, we see the Ten Commandments in Deu 5, and have Moses giving us the context of these commands: Deuteronomy 5:22

[22] “These words the LORD spoke to all your assembly at the mountain out of the midst of the fire, the cloud, and the thick darkness, with a loud voice; and he added no more. And he wrote them on two tablets of stone and gave them to me.

We know that it contained curses and oaths for Israel, if they did not follow its laws, based on the testimony of Daniel 9:11

[11] All Israel has transgressed your law and turned aside, refusing to obey your voice. And the curse and oath that are written in the Law of Moses the servant of God have been poured out upon us, because we have sinned against him.

We find this “curse and oath” in Deuteronomy 28:15-68.

And, we know that it contained prophecies, as attested in Daniel 9:13 (and possibly Jeremiah 25:13):

[13] As it is written in the Law of Moses, all this calamity has come upon us; yet we have not entreated the favor of the LORD our God, turning from our iniquities and gaining insight by your truth.

All of these subjects are present in the book of Deuteronomy.

The Prophecy of Deuteronomy

What’s often overlooked when reading this scroll of Moses (Deuteronomy, or some parts of it) is its prophetic content.  It is worth noting that in being given both the Sinai covenant and this separate covenant Moses says God also indicated that Israel would break them.   Deu 30:1-3 is unequivocal. Moses, speaking of the prophesied blessings and curses, says:

[30:1] “And when all these things come upon you, the blessing and the curse, which I have set before you, and you call them to mind among all the nations where the LORD your God has driven you, [2] and return to the LORD your God, you and your children, and obey his voice in all that I command you today, with all your heart and with all your soul, [3] then the LORD your God will restore your fortunes and have mercy on you, and he will gather you again from all the peoples where the LORD your God has scattered you.

In fact, a foundational message of this scroll is its prophetic warnings (blessings and curses) that Israel would, in fact, abandon faith in their LORD, and so incur the curses (notice: “‘when‘ all these things come upon you”, not ‘if‘).

As we’ve seen, in Deu 5 Moses recites the covenant made with Israel at Sinai/Horeb.  Here he says that Israel told him, upon their hearing YHWH’s voice speaking out of the flame, to spare them having to listen to more, and to just have God talk to him so he can tell them what YHWH has said, and “we will do it”.

God agrees with the people and so says to Moses: (Deu 5:31)

[31] But you, stand here by me, and I will tell you the whole commandment and the statutes and the rules that you shall teach them, that they may do them in the land that I am giving them to possess.’

But this isn’t a reference to Moses’ Moab covenant that we’re interested in.  This is a retrospective, recounting that at Horeb, he simply had to meet with God in private to receive the entire covenant He proclaimed there.

Moses doesn’t just lay out the Moab covenant’s rules and encourage Israel to follow them for “a thousand generations”, and what will happen to them if they don’t.  He says conclusively they won’t follow them.  For example he says the consequences of their disobedience will be:   Deu 28:32-33

[32] Your sons and your daughters shall be given to another people, while your eyes look on and fail with longing for them all day long, but you shall be helpless. [33] A nation that you have not known shall eat up the fruit of your ground and of all your labors, and you shall be only oppressed and crushed continually,

Clearly, he’s here prophesying either the Assyrian or Babylonian conquest of Israel – perhaps even Rome.

Perhaps the most heart-wrenching prophesy Moses gives is this: Deuteronomy 28:53-55

[53] And you shall eat the fruit of your womb, the flesh of your sons and daughters, whom the LORD your God has given you, in the siege and in the distress with which your enemies shall distress you. [54] The man who is the most tender and refined among you will begrudge food to his brother, to the wife he embraces, and to the last of the children whom he has left, [55] so that he will not give to any of them any of the flesh of his children whom he is eating, because he has nothing else left, in the siege and in the distress with which your enemy shall distress you in all your towns.

Here he’s describing the agonizing climax of the sieges of Jerusalem both before the Babylonian conquest and its Roman destruction of 70 AD.  In both, the city went through an extended period of siege in which the food supplies ran out and the people were driven to cannibalism to survive.  No one hearing Moses’ prophecy there in Moab could possibly imagine such a thing.  But it was to be played out exactly as he had prophesied.

Consequences

So Moses’ scroll is found in 622 BC by Hilkiah.  Then Shaphan reads it to the king, Josiah.  His reaction is recorded in 2 Kings 22:11-13:

11When the king heard the words of the book of the law, he tore his clothes. 12Then the king commanded Hilkiah the priest, Ahikam the son of Shaphan, Achbor the son of Micaiah, Shaphan the scribe, and Asaiah the king’s servant saying, 13“Go, inquire of the LORD for me and the people and all Judah concerning the words of this book that has been found, for great is the wrath of the LORD that burns against us, because our fathers have not listened to the words of this book, to do according to all that is written concerning us.”

Josiah, upon hearing the covenant, and in particular the curses, was undone because he knew the nation had been unfaithful, and therefore was itself undone.  Despite this he asks for his prophetess, Huldah, to interpret her understanding of these prophecies.  And Huldah confirms Josiah’s initial conclusions and worst fears: 2 Kings 22:15-17

15She said to them, “Thus says the LORD God of Israel, ‘Tell the man who sent you to me, 16thus says the LORD, “Behold, I bring evil on this place and on its inhabitants, even all the words of the book which the king of Judah has read. 17“Because they have forsaken Me and have burned incense to other gods that they might provoke Me to anger with all the work of their hands, therefore My wrath burns against this place, and it shall not be quenched.”’

Josiah then assembles all of Israel in Jerusalem and reads them the Scroll of Moses.

But despite Josiah’s contrition and grief upon reading the scroll, and his fervent desire to reform his people and honor God, Huldah’s prophecy says: “too late.  The deal is done.”

(Josiah’s reaction to hearing Moses’ scroll is not unlike the new Christian convert’s when, having trusted Christ for his life, is given the understanding of the grossness of his sin before that moment.  This is the phenomenon known as being “convicted of sin”.)

So for 800+ years Israel had lived without the benefit of having read to them the covenant God had made with their forefathers and them.  And, without the benefit of its reading, they had violated virtually every tenet of God’s covenant with them – foremost among them faithfulness to their LORD.  They were condemned.  If accurate (and I have no reason to believe this story is not accurate), it goes a long way toward explaining how it could possibly be that, having been extended the Grace of God in their redemption from Egypt and their sustenance in the wilderness for forty years, Israel would almost immediately begin disobeying God’s instructions (in taking Canaan), and soon after David, go completely off the rails into rampant apostasy.

Moses’ ‘New’ Torah

Moses said in Deu 29:1 that his words of the covenant were those that the LORD commanded him to make with the people at Moab, “besides the covenant that he had made with them at Horeb”.  So, it surely sounds as if it was new, at least to those people.

One of the ways we can see what was new in Moses’ Moab covenant is to compare it with other books of the Torah containing covenant language.

The first distinctive we encounter, of course, is its prophecy of impending apostasy and judgement by the LORD, as noted above.  Certainly the rest of the books of the Torah contained warnings in the form of “if-then” covenant language.  But they did not prophecy failure.

In Deu 6 our interest is peaked when we read Moses saying this:

[6:1] “Now this is the commandment—the statutes and the rules —that the LORD your God commanded me to teach you, that you may do them in the land to which you are going over, to possess it, [2] that you may fear the LORD your God, you and your son and your son’s son, by keeping all his statutes and his commandments, which I command you, all the days of your life, and that your days may be long.

Here he says, using his familiar formulation of hear, learn (i.e. his teaching), guard (“keep”) and do, he’s going to give them what God took him aside at Horeb to give to them.  And what does he say immediately after this announcement?  The Shema: (Deu 6:4-8)

[4] “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. [5] You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. [6] And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. [7] You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. [8] You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes.

This is new.  Certainly, the singularity of God had not been emphasized before.  But the revolutionary command here is the command to “love the LORD your God with all you heart and with all your soul and with all your might” (מְאׂד méōd, meh-ode’). (This word rendered “might” has a meaning of vehemence or totality.  So it’s fair to render this last measure to be: “with all your everything”.)

This is not just new; it’s revolutionary.  God’s love for Israel and their ancestors was certainly not unknown (e.g. Ge 24:27, Ge 32:10, Ex 19:5).  But that they should reciprocate that love was new.  And how were they to demonstrate that love for YHWH?  Through obedience to His commands, as Moses made clear throughout his scroll of Deuteronomy.

Deu 7 in its totality contains new covenantal promises, both good and bad, having to do with their moving into the land, disposing of its idolatrous inhabitants, its prosperity, their prosperity and fruitfulness, their health, the sickness of their enemies, etc.  All of this is new.

Deu 9 is a historical recollection of Sinai and Israel’s disobedience, as is Deu 10 up to verse 12.  Here we get a dramatically new command to Israel.  After God (through Moses) repeats his admonition to fear Him, walk in his ways, love Him with all your heart and soul, and keep his commandments, He says this: Deu 10:16

[16] Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no longer stubborn.

Circumcision, of course, was established first by God with Abraham as a sign of God’s covenant (Gen 17:7) with him and his progeny (Gen 17:10-14).  Later it was commanded for the chosen people in Lev 12:3).  But now, God says He doesn’t want His people to be just symbolically His; He wants their heart.  This is new.  And He doesn’t stop there.  In Deu. 10:19 He commands Israel:

[19] Love the sojourner, therefore, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt.

“Sojourner” was the designation given non-Israelites – people who were with the Israelites but not of their family.  God wants them loved by His Israelites as a sign of their gratitude for Him redeeming their fathers from Egypt where they were the sojourners.

Deu 11 is in many ways a reprise of Deu 8.  It contains, however, a unique new commandment, and that is the command to recite the blessings and the curses of the LORD on Mt. Gerizim (the blessings) and Mt. Ebal (the curses). (This command was carried out as attested in Jos 8:33).

Deu 12 specifies that the Israelites shall only offer their offerings to Him in the location (as yet undisclosed) God designates.  This is unique to Deuteronomy.  It also contains a warning for the Israelites “not to get ensnared” with the people in the land they are going in to displace – particularly worship of their idols.

A New Covenant?

Certainly, at the very least, Moses in his Moab Covenant not only fleshed out some additional details of the Sinai/Horeb Covenant (it is estimated that some 200 of the 613 Torah rules appear in Deuteronomy[viii], some 30 of which are unique in the Torah[ix]) but also introduced new (at least to the people) rules God had given him either at Horeb or in the desert wanderings leading up to Moab.

But did he prophesy a New Covenant beyond that of the exile, the one we’ve been discussing here called the “Mosaic Covenant”.

A couple of people who would have heard Josiah read the scroll of Moses after it was “found” in 622BC are the prophets Jeremiah and Ezekiel, as they were both living in Jerusalem at the time of that reading.  Their testimonies of the coming of a “new covenant”, following the Babylonian exile, are well known.  In this table we lay out some of the prophecies of Moses and compare them to those of Jeremiah and Ezekiel, both of whom would have been recipients of Moses’ scroll following Hilkiah’s discovery.  What we’re interested in are Mosaic prophecies that echo in Jeremiah or Ezekiel’s New Covenant prophecies.

Concerning the existing Covenant, we see that Jeremiah picks up a couple of themes first seen in the Moses scroll.  In particular he picks up on Moses’ admonition (from the LORD) to make the covenant known to the people (Deu 4:9, Jer 9:24).  He also echo’s Moses’ plea to “Circumcise…the foreskin of your heart (Deu 10:16, Jer 4:4). (We don’t find this metaphor used anywhere else in the Bible.)

When the subject turns to prophecy of Israel’s destiny, we see in the “curse” section of Deuteronomy (28:63-64) Moses prophesy that “You will be uprooted from the land you are about to posses.  The LORD will scatter you among all the nations…”.  This is a prophesy Jeremiah echoes (31:10, 32:36-37).  And uniquely within the Pentateuch Moses also prophecies that the LORD will “gather you from all the peoples among whom he scattered you” (Deu 30:2), which Jeremiah similarly picks up on in Jeremiah 30:3.

But then… we encounter something truly groundbreaking in Deu 30:6-8.  Up to this point, Moses’ prophecy has been laying out their destined banishment from the land they were going into, followed by their eventual return to the land YHWH gave them.  Throughout this prophecy he has been admonishing them to conduct themselves in a way that would ward off this judgement (e.g “Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no longer stubborn”). The old covenant message is “Live righteously.”

Here, however, he announces that God is going to take the initiative to change the hearts of Israelites.  Deu 30:6-8:

[6] And the LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live. [7] And the LORD your God will put all these curses on your foes and enemies who persecuted you. [8] And you shall again obey the voice of the LORD and keep all his commandments that I command you today.

This is a New Covenant message, not unlike Jeremiah’s reprise: Jer 31:34

[34] And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”

or Ezekiel’s: Eze 37:14

[14] And I will put my Spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you in your own land. Then you shall know that I am the LORD; I have spoken, and I will do it, declares the LORD.

This New Covenant of Moses is that God will change our inner selves to be not the ones who consistently struggle and fail to love and be obedient to His will, but into ones that seek Him and the life of faithfulness to His will because He has changed our inner man.

Summary and Conclusions

Maybe the covenant revealed by Moses in Moab was newly revealed to him there, and maybe it was only newly divulged to the Israelites there.  It is clear, however, that it contained material that was new to that generation of Israelites.  But the fact that Israel (perhaps inadvertently) abandoned it shortly after they received it in Moab and entered into their new land, speaks volumes about their history.  Could they have avoided their dispersion at the hands of Assyria or the exile of Judah to Babylon and later destruction at the hands of the Romans if they had not abandoned it – had it been read faithfully to them every seven years from their beginning?  As we have seen, probably not, since the prophecy contained in it that God gave Moses was clear and unequivocal that they would apostatize and abandon Him.  It seems they were destined to disobedience.

So these, we can conclude, were the words and topics contained in the once-lost Moses scroll, found later by Hilkiah.  No wonder when it was presented to the King, Josiah, he was devastated.  He knew how much of this covenant his people had violated.  This was confirmed by his prophetess Huldah, who as noted above, interpreted the scroll as essentially a death sentence for the apostate Israel.

But the truly revolutionary prophecy of Moses’ scroll was not so much that of the exile and eventual return to the land, but that following this return, God Himself would take the initiative in changing His people by changing their hearts.  No longer would He expect the people to circumcise their own hearts; He would do that:

[6] And the LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live.

Perhaps, just perhaps, Moses not only was given a glimpse of God’s ultimate plan, but this revelation gripped both Jeremiah and Ezekiel (as well as perhaps Zechariah [12:10] and even Zephaniah and Micah [4:1-5]) hundreds of years later.

The reassuring message in all of this is that God is in control.  He had and has a plan for the redemption of His humanity and creation that He began to reveal 3400 years ago.  And He continues to follow it to this day.


[i] I am deeply indebted to teacher Ross Nichols of the United Israel World Union for much of the content of this piece.  Ross is a fabulous Bible teacher.  He is not a Christian.

[ii] Parallels between the Book of the Covenant (Ex.21-23) and Deut. (about 50% of former)

Hebrew servants Exodus 21:1-11 Deut. 15:12-18
Murder: deliberate and accidental Exodus 21:12-14 Deut. 19:1-13
Kidnapping Exodus 21:16 Deut. 24:7
Marriage to a seduced virgin Exodus 22:16-17 Deut. 22:28-29
Oppression of the weak or helpless Exodus 22:21-24; 23:9 Deut. 24:17-22; 24:17f
Charging interest on loans Exodus 22:25 Deut. 23:19-20
Taking pledges (collateral) from the poor Exodus 22:26-27 Deut. 24:10-13
Law of the firstborn Exodus 22:29-30 Deut. 15:19-21
Eating meat not properly butchered Exodus 22:31 Deut. 15:22-23
False witnesses Exodus 23:1 Deut. 19:16-21
Impartial justice in court Exodus 23:2-3, 6-8 Deut. 16:18-20
Kindness to neighbors, including enemies Exodus 23:4-5 Deut. 22:1-4
The Sabbath Year/ Year of Release Exodus 23:10-11 Deut. 15:1-11
The Sabbath Day Exodus 23:12 Deut. 5:13-15
Oaths only in the name of Yahweh Exodus 23:13 Deut. 6:13-14
Three annual festivals Exodus 23:14-17 Deut. 16:1-17
The Law of Firstfruits Exodus 23:19a Deut. 26:2-10
Don’t boil a kid in its mother’s milk Exodus 23:19b Deut. 14:21b

Characteristic presentation in Deut.: State law briefly, then expand, preach, exhort and warn (e.g., 14:22-27;  15:1-11;  15:12-18)

[iii] Deuteronomy, as we have it today, does contain some portions supplied by a later scribe/editor in which Moses is referred to in the 3rd person voice.  However, all first person references within the Pentateuch are contained in Deuteronomy.

[iv] Deuteronomy contains the voices of other than Moses.  So he was not the sole contributor.  For example, we see a later emendation to the book in Deuteronomy 29:28:

[28] and the LORD uprooted them from their land in anger and fury and great wrath, and cast them into another land, as they are this day.’

Clearly a later scribe added emphasis to the prophecy that Israel would be banished from the land by noting that, as of his adding to it, they were still there.

[v] The Deuteronomy we have is not in sequential order.  The true order has been much debated, but one possible sequence is this:

  1. preamble—Deut 1:1-5;
  2. historical prologue— Deut 1:6-4:43;
  3. stipulations, laws, and regulations—Deut 4:44-26:15;
  4. arrangements for depositing treaty copies— Deut 31:24-26;
  5. arrangements for regular reading of the treaty—Deut 30:9-12;
  6. witnesses of the covenant agreement—Deut 4:26; 30:19; 31:28;
  7. curses and blessings—Deut 28:1-68;

[vi] This same event in 2 Kings 22:8-23,23,24 is portrayed there as coming before Josiah began his reforms – implying that they were triggered by finding the scroll.

[vii] W.M.L. de Wette didn’t buy this explanation that the scroll was “found” while cleaning the Temple.  His theory is that the “discovery” of the scroll of Moses wasn’t really a discovery at all but more like the publication date of the scroll itself, circa seventh century BC. He called the story of its finding “a Pius fraud”.  And his rejection wasn’t based merely on the implausibility of the story but also on textual analysis of Deuteronomy and the next six books of the Bible in which he and his like-minded scholars identified several textual and grammatical similarities seemingly substantiating that they were all late seventh or early 6th century documents.  This remains the view of most academics today.

[viii] Old Testament Studies – Lesson 1 – Deuteronomy Introduction

[ix] The Deuteronomic Code – Wikipedia