Deuteronomy 10: 1-5 – A Renewed Covenant
1 At that time the LORD said to me, “Carve out two tablets of stone like the former ones, and come up to me on the mountain, and make an ark of wood. 2 I will write on the tablets the words that were on the former tablets, which you smashed, and you shall put them in the ark.” 3 So I made an ark of acacia wood, cut two tablets of stone like the former ones, and went up the mountain with the two tablets in my hand. 4 Then he wrote on the tablets the same words as before, the ten commandments that the LORD had spoken to you on the mountain out of the fire on the day of the assembly; and the LORD gave them to me. 5 So I turned and came down from the mountain, and put the tablets in the ark that I had made; and there they are, as the LORD commanded me.
This retelling of the second giving of the ten commandments, combines portions of Exodus 34 and Exodus 37 putting the focus on Moses. Throughout Deuteronomy, Moses is the paradigm for what the people of Israel are to be. Moses again goes up Mount Sinai/ Horeb to be in the presence of God after the people have transgressed the covenant and the original tablets have been shattered by Moses in his frustration. The second giving of the Ten Commandments after the incident with the golden calf is an opportunity at a new beginning. God has moved past the previous transgressions and grants the people a new chance to live into their identity. In a key difference in tellings, now it is Moses who creates the original ark to house the Ten Commandments rather than Bezalel and Oholiab, but this is consistent with Deuteronomy’s focus on the character and person of Moses as the paradigmatic person who embodies what the Hebrew people are called to be. The place of the Ark of the Covenant in the story of the Jewish people comes not from its skillful work or the gold or the images of the cherubim but rather from its association with the story of Moses and its place as a holder of the words of God that Moses brings to the people.
Deuteronomy 10: 6-9 – Side Note on the Journey and Setting Aside the Levites
6 (The Israelites journeyed from Beeroth-bene-jaakan to Moserah. There Aaron died, and there he was buried; his son Eleazar succeeded him as priest. 7 From there they journeyed to Gudgodah, and from Gudgodah to Jotbathah, a land with flowing streams. 8 At that time the LORD set apart the tribe of Levi to carry the ark of the covenant of the LORD, to stand before the LORD to minister to him, and to bless in his name, to this day. 9 Therefore Levi has no allotment or inheritance with his kindred; the LORD is his inheritance, as the LORD your God promised him.)
This is an interesting insertion into the story of the second time Moses is on the mountain with God, for it seems out of place. On the one hand the travel narrative jumps us well ahead in the story as told in Exodus and Numbers to the death of Aaron immediately prior to the second approach to the promised land and uses different names for the places in the movement, for example Moserah in Numbers is Mount Hor. Perhaps more importantly for the narrative is the removal of Aaron from the line of authority between Moses and the people. Moses becomes the link between the people and God as their leader and prophet and the Levites, and Aaron’s son Eleazar inherit the role of priests for the people. It sets the Levites up for their role once they enter the promised land but also explains their lack of an inherited land. The Levites going forward will be the ones to pass on the law that Moses receives in the narratives of Deuteronomy and Exodus, but their authority is as receivers of the law and their authority is derivative from the setting aside of God and dependent on the faithfulness of the other tribes in providing for them. The Levites become, in a sense, a permanent reminder of the people’s Exodus journey, becoming a representative people without a land dependent only upon the Lord as their inheritance.
Deuteronomy 10: 10-11- Back on the Mountain with God
10 I stayed on the mountain forty days and forty nights, as I had done the first time. And once again the LORD listened to me. The LORD was unwilling to destroy you. 11 The LORD said to me, “Get up, go on your journey at the head of the people, that they may go in and occupy the land that I swore to their ancestors to give them.”
Continuing the theme from the beginning of this chapter we see a chance at a new beginning. The LORD’s anger has passed, the LORD’s promise of the land has not changed, the people’s disobedience has been consigned to the past with a new future opened up by forgiveness. Moses has intervened for the people and the LORD has listened but also the emphasis is on the LORD’s choce, “The LORD was unwilling to destroy you. Moses is reaffirmed as being the leader and is to go at the head of the people
Deuteronomy 10: 12-22 – The Choice of God
12 So now, O Israel, what does the LORD your God require of you? Only to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, 13 and to keep the commandments of the LORD your God and his decrees that I am commanding you today, for your own well-being. 14 Although heaven and the heaven of heavens belong to the LORD your God, the earth with all that is in it, 15 yet the LORD set his heart in love on your ancestors alone and chose you, their descendants after them, out of all the peoples, as it is today. 16 Circumcise, then, the foreskin of your heart, and do not be stubborn any longer. 17 For the LORD your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who is not partial and takes no bribe, 18 who executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and who loves the strangers, providing them food and clothing. 19 You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. 20 You shall fear the LORD your God; him alone you shall worship; to him you shall hold fast, and by his name you shall swear. 21 He is your praise; he is your God, who has done for you these great and awesome things that your own eyes have seen. 22 Your ancestors went down to Egypt seventy persons; and now the LORD your God has made you as numerous as the stars in heaven.
The people are in their position because of the choice of their God. Their response is one of obedience, respect, awe and love. They are called to commit themselves to God wholeheartedly. Working from the contrast between the smallness of the people and the vastness of God’s creation and domain they are reminded that God chose to love their ancestors and by extension them. As the previous chapters of Deuteronomy have made clear it is not their military might, their wealth, their self-righteousness or any other factor that have placed them into this covenantal relationship with their God. Rather, it is the divine choice to love this people. So the people are called to live out of this calling.
This God of Israel, the LORD, is also not primarily interested in the sacrifices or the wealth offered during the worship of God. God cannot be bribed by the produce of the land or the riches of the wealthiest kings. This is a God who may have dominion over the heavens and the heaven of heavens and the earth and all that is in it, but this is also a God who chooses to pay attention to the lost and the least of that same earth. The people are not to model themselves after an image of God who seeks the mighty and the powerful of the earth, but rather they are to model themselves on the imageless God who seeks out justice for the weakest of the community: the widow, the orphan and the stranger. The LORD who rescued them from their slavery expects them not to, in their entry into the land, to now become the oppressor and the slaveholder. As the LORD cared for them in their captivity and slavery in Egypt, the promise is that the LORD will also value the stranger, the captive, the slave and the weak in their midst.