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Bible Commentaries

Dr. Constable's Expository Notes

Deuteronomy 14

B. An exposition of selected covenant laws Chs. 12-25

Moses’ continuing homiletical exposition of the Law of Israel that follows explains reasons for the covenant laws that arose from the Ten Commandments. This address concludes with directions for celebrating and confirming the covenant (Deuteronomy 26:1-15). The section contains a mixture of laws previously revealed to the Israelites and other laws not previously revealed in the code given at Sinai (Exodus 20:1 to Exodus 23:19). This is instruction preached rather than codified as comprehensive legislation.

"The specific laws in this section were given to help the people subordinate every area of their lives to the LORD, and to help them eradicate whatever might threaten that pure devotion." [Note: Deere, p. 283.]

"Placement of the instruction about worship at the sanctuary in first position indicates clearly its priority for Deuteronomy, which assumes that the starting point for the proper, full, and exclusive love of the Lord (the primary demand of the first and second commandments and the Shema) is found in the way Israel carries out the activities of worship." [Note: Miller, p. 129.]

There is an obvious general movement from laws dealing with Israel’s religious life (Deuteronomy 12:1 to Deuteronomy 16:17) to those affecting her civil life (Deuteronomy 16:18 to Deuteronomy 22:8) and finally to those touching personal life (Deuteronomy 22:9 to Deuteronomy 26:15).

Two insightful writers suggested the following outlines for these chapters. [Note: Merrill, Deuteronomy, pp. 218-331; and Stephen A. Kaufman, "The Structure of the Deuteronomic Law," MAARAV 1 (1978-79):105-58.]

CommandmentMerrillKaufmanDescription
1Deuteronomy 12:1-31ch. 12Fidelity
2Deuteronomy 12:32 to Deuteronomy 13:18ch. 12Worship
3Deuteronomy 14:1-21Deuteronomy 13:1 to Deuteronomy 14:27Name of God
4Deuteronomy 14:22 to Deuteronomy 16:17Deuteronomy 14:28 to Deuteronomy 16:17Sabbath
5Deuteronomy 16:18 to Deuteronomy 18:22Deuteronomy 16:18 to Deuteronomy 18:22Authority
6Deuteronomy 19:1 to Deuteronomy 22:8Deuteronomy 19:1 to Deuteronomy 22:8Murder
7Deuteronomy 22:9 to Deuteronomy 23:18Deuteronomy 22:9 to Deuteronomy 23:19Adultery
8Deuteronomy 23:19 to Deuteronomy 24:7Deuteronomy 23:20 to Deuteronomy 24:7Theft
9Deuteronomy 24:8 to Deuteronomy 25:4Deuteronomy 24:8 to Deuteronomy 25:4False witness
10Deuteronomy 25:5-19Deuteronomy 25:5-16Coveting

". . . the entire second discourse of Moses (Deuteronomy 5-26) is a single literary unit that convincingly demonstrates that the moral law informs the statutes, judgments . . . and commands of God." [Note: Walter C. Kaiser Jr., Toward Old Testament Ethics, p. 129.]

In contrast with the Book of the Covenant (Exodus 20-23), the Deuteronomic Code, as some scholars prefer to call this section (chs. 12-26), is a popular exposition rather than a formal legal code. Its purpose was to explain to the generation entering the land all the laws that needed clarification, emphasis, and application, in view of Israel’s imminent entrance into Canaan. These laws reflect a centralized, monarchical society.

The value of this section of Scripture to the Christian today lies primarily in its revelation of the heart, mind, and will of God. The modern student of these chapters should look for this kind of insight here. This is the revelatory value of the Law.

Verses 1-2

Because the Israelites were God’s sons (Deuteronomy 14:1; i.e., because of their special intimate relationship with Yahweh) they were to eat and act as He directed here (cf. Deuteronomy 1:31; Deuteronomy 8:5). This is the first of two affirmations of Israel being God’s special possession, His chosen people, in Deuteronomy (cf. Deuteronomy 26:18). [Note: See Fruchtenbaum, pp. 114-15.]

Self-mutilation and shaving the forehead were pagan practices associated with idolatry. The Canaanites did these things to express passionate sorrow for the dead. Laceration may have been a seasonal rite in the Baal fertility cults as well. [Note: John Gray, The Legacy of Canaan, p. 252. Cf. 1 Kings 18:28.]

"The external appearance of the people should reflect their internal status as the chosen and holy people of God." [Note: Gordon J. Wenham, The Book of Leviticus, p. 272.]

Verses 1-21

3. Laws arising from the third commandment 14:1-21

The third commandment is, "You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain" (Deuteronomy 5:11). This section of laws deals with the exclusiveness of the Lord and His worship as this pertains to Israel’s separation from all other nations. The theme of refraining from Canaanite practices continues in this chapter. However here it is not the obviously idolatrous practices but the more subtle ones associated with Canaanite religion that Moses proscribed. The whole chapter deals with eating. The Hebrew verb bal (eat) occurs in Deuteronomy 14:3-4; Deuteronomy 14:6-12; Deuteronomy 14:19-21; Deuteronomy 14:23; Deuteronomy 14:26; Deuteronomy 14:29.

Verses 3-21

The diet of the Canaanites also had connection with their religion. Perhaps some of what God forbade would have been unhealthful for the Israelites to eat (cf. Leviticus 11). [Note: See Jay D. Fawver and R. Larry Overstreet, "Moses and Preventive Medicine," Bibliotheca Sacra 147:587 (July-September):270-85.] However the main reason for the prohibitions seems to have been that certain animals did not conform to what the Israelites considered normal or typical. [Note: M. Douglas, Purity and Danger, pp. 53-55; Wenham, The Book . . ., p. 169.] Another view is that the distinctions between clean and unclean were deliberately arbitrary to teach the Israelites that God’s election of them from among other nations had also been arbitrary. [Note: Merrill, Deuteronomy, p. 236; idem, "A Theology . . .," p. 80; et al.] Others believe that only some of these distinctions were arbitrary. [Note: E.g., Kline, "Deuteronomy," p. 174. For a survey of the various interpretations of the motives behind these prohibitions (e.g., hygiene, association with pagan religions, etc.), see Kim-Kwong Chan, "You Shall Not Eat These Abominable Things: An Examination Of Different Interpretations On Deuteronomy 14:3-20," East Asia Journal of Theology 3:1 (1985):88-106; and Deere, pp. 287-88.]

One characteristic of all the forbidden birds, despite the imprecision of the names that describe them, seems to be that they all consumed carrion. [Note: J. E. Hartley, Leviticus, p. 159.]

"The ceremonial custom of boiling a kid in its mother’s milk is known from the ancient Canaanite tablets found at Ugarit [i.e., the Ras Shamra Tablets]. Such a rite was superstitiously observed by the Canaanites, hoping that through magical acts they could increase fertility and productivity (Deuteronomy 14:21; Exodus 23:19; Exodus 34:26)." [Note: Schultz, p. 55.]

". . . various Canaanite cults regularly engaged in the practices of seething a kid in its mother’s milk as a fertility rite of sympathetic magic intended to coerce the deity into granting fertility to the wives, fields, and flocks of the cults’ adherents. Such rites of sympathetic magic ’worked’ on the premise that the gods were in some way part of and subject to the same natural created order that human beings also inhabited. By finding the common natural connection points, human beings could ’push the right buttons’ and thus manipulate the gods . . .

"Israelites do not, through an act of sympathetic magic, try to coerce the deity into blessing them with fertility for the year to come; but instead, after the year’s crops have been harvested and whether that year’s harvest has been fruitful or not, Israelites bring a tithe to God as an act of gratitude [cf. Deuteronomy 14:22-29]." [Note: Michael L. Goldberg, "The Story of the Moral: Gifts or Bribes in Deuteronomy?" Interpretation 38:1 (January 1984):21-22.]

Another view is that this prohibition taught the Israelites not to use what promotes life, milk, to destroy life. [Note: Deere, p. 289.]

In the present dispensation all foods are clean (Mark 7:19; Acts 10:15; Romans 14:14; et al.). However, we too should avoid foods that are unhealthful, since our bodies are the temples of the Holy Spirit, and blood, the carrier and symbol of life (Genesis 9:4). Moreover we should avoid practices that may lead us away from God’s will or appear to others that we have departed from God’s will (1 Thessalonians 5:22).

4. Laws arising from the fourth commandment 14:22-16:17

The fourth commandment is, "Observe the Sabbath day to keep it holy" (Deuteronomy 5:12). The reason for observing the Sabbath day was Yahweh’s redemption of Israel from bondage in Egypt and His consequent adoption of the Israelites as His chosen people (Deuteronomy 5:15). In the ancient Near East, nations expressed their gratitude, loyalty, and worship to their sovereign by bringing him offerings periodically. What follows in this section is the laws concerning how Israel was to do this.

Verses 22-29

The application of the tithe of produce 14:22-29

There was a yearly tithe (Deuteronomy 14:22-27) and an additional three-year tithe (Deuteronomy 14:28-29) in Israel. The Israelites were to invite the Levites to the celebration at the tabernacle when the Israelites consumed the yearly tithe (Deuteronomy 14:23). They were also to invite the Levites and the needy to the third year celebration, every third and sixth year in the seven-year sabbatical cycle, which they held in each town (Deuteronomy 14:28).

"As the Israelites were to sanctify their food, on the one hand, positively by abstinence from everything unclean, so they were, on the other hand, to do so negatively by delivering the tithes and firstlings at the place where the Lord would cause His name to dwell, and by holding festal meals on the occasion, and rejoicing there before Jehovah their God." [Note: Keil and Delitzsch, 3:367.]

In what way did observing this ordinance cause the Israelites to learn to fear Yahweh (Deuteronomy 14:23)? Yahweh was the possessor of the land, and He provided that His servants, the Levites, would receive sustenance from its bounty. [Note: Merrill, "A Theology . . .," p. 80.]

"The fear of the Lord is not merely a feeling of dependence on Him, but also includes the notion of divine blessedness, which is the predominant idea here, as the sacrificial meals were to furnish the occasion and object of rejoicing before the Lord." [Note: Keil and Delitzsch, 3:367-68.]

"The purpose of this section is not so much to give a comprehensive statement of the tithe law as to guard tithing procedure from being prostituted to idolatrous ends; that is, to prevent Israel from honoring the Canaanite fertility deities for their harvests." [Note: Kline, "Deuteronomy," p. 174.]

The yearly celebration evidently coincided with the Feast of Firstfruits in the spring (in March/April; cf. Leviticus 23:9-14; Leviticus 27:30-33; Numbers 18:21-32). The third year feast occurred at the end of the religious year, earlier the following spring (Deuteronomy 14:28).

The Hebrew word shekar, translated "strong drink" (Deuteronomy 14:26, NASB) or "fermented drink" (NIV) refers to some type of fermented beverage made from grain. God did not forbid consumption of this beverage in Israel, but He did condemn drunkenness. Near Easterners did not distill liquor until the seventh century A.D., so the beverages in view here were not that high in alcohol content. [Note: Deere, p. 289.]

The Lord does not require these tithes of Christians, but He has taught us to express thanksgiving to Him for His provisions and to demonstrate His compassion. We should have compassion on those who serve God and the specially needy by sharing what God has given us with them (1 Corinthians 9:11; 1 Corinthians 9:14; Galatians 6:6; Galatians 6:10; et al.).

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Bibliographical Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Deuteronomy 14". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/dcc/deuteronomy-14.html. 2012.