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Bible Commentaries

Pett's Commentary on the Bible

Deuteronomy 16

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 27:0), followed by blessings and cursings to do with the observance or breach of the covenant (Deuteronomy 28:0).

The Three Great Feasts (Deuteronomy 16:1-17 ).

Moses now reminded them that every year Israel were to gather at the three great feasts, Passover, Sevens (Weeks or Harvest) and Tabernacles (or Ingathering/Booths). (See Exodus 23:14-17; Exodus 34:23. Compare for details Exodus 12:0; Leviticus 23:4-38; Numbers 28:16 to Numbers 29:39). This can be compared with the gathering of under-kings to make regular submission to their overlords and offer tribute, often required in treaties. Every adult male in Israel was to be present. Again the idea of joyous worship is stressed (Deuteronomy 16:11; Deuteronomy 16:14).

That all males were to appear in the place of His choosing three times a year 'before Yahweh' or to 'see the face of Yahweh' is constantly emphasised (Exodus 23:17; Exodus 34:23) This was in fact necessary in order to maintain the unity of the tribes and in order to maintain their covenant with God. This probably means all males who were ‘of age’. We are not told about the logistics. They would spread over available land. The weak and infirm together with male children were probably not included in 'all males'.

But all, including women and children, were welcome at the feasts, especially Weeks and Tabernacles (Deuteronomy 16:1-14). It is interesting that wives are not mentioned although daughters (unmarried) and widows are (Deuteronomy 16:11; Deuteronomy 16:14). Perhaps the wives were to stay behind to look after the farms (compare Deuteronomy 3:19, although that was a call to arms, also contrast Deuteronomy 29:11 where wives were specifically mentioned). But it is more likely that the wives were simply seen as one with their husbands, as elsewhere (e.g. Deuteronomy 5:14) and that their presence was thus assumed, not because they were not considered important, but because they were of equal importance with their husbands. God's promise was that none would invade during these times (Exodus 34:23-24).

As these feasts were at times of harvest such times would tend not to be danger periods as all nations would be gathering their own harvests and celebrating their own feasts and would be too busy to make war. (Note 2 Samuel 11:1 which indicates that there were certain times for invading). Of course the assumption is that the whole land would belong to Israel as other nations would have been driven out (if Israel had been obedient). This was different from the call to arms which could happen at any time when danger threatened or tribal matters had to be sorted out (Judges 20:1).

With these regulations given with regard to the three great feasts we come to an end of this worship section of the speech. No mention is made of the great Day of Atonement, nor of lesser feasts. This is not a general giving of the Law. It is a speech given to the people to encourage them and prepare them for their direct responsibilities in connection with entering the land and possessing it.

Deuteronomy generally avoids what mainly involves the priests and priestly functions. That information Moses has dealt with in other records. Even in dealing with uncleanness it has concentrated only on what the people had to make positive choices about with regard to it. And when he deals with priests and Levites in Deuteronomy 18:0 it is in order to describe the people’s duties with regard to them. It is this emphasis which explains why he never actually clearly and specifically differentiates between the responsibilities of priests and Levites, although once one accepts the differentiation given elsewhere it is clear where he does differentiate them.

It will be noted that little detail is given as to how the feasts are to be observed from the priests’ point of view. Apart from the bare bones, all the concentration is on the aspects connected with the people. Thus at the feast of Passover and unleavened bread the actual sacrificing is seen as performed by the people and then partaken of, and the matter of the leaven is dwelt on more fully, while in the other feasts the sacrificial offerings are ignored and all the emphasis is on joyful participation in the feasting.

(The whole chapter is ‘thou’ throughout).

II. INSTRUCTION CONCERNING THE GOVERNING OF THE COMMUNITY (Deuteronomy 16:18 to Deuteronomy 19:21 ).

Having established the principles of worship and religious response for the community based on the dwellingplace where Yahweh would choose to establish His name, Moses now moved on to various aspects of governing the community. He had clearly been giving a great deal of thought to what would happen when he had gone, and to that end had been meditating on God’s promises in Genesis and the content of God’s Instruction (Torah).

Moses was doing here what he described himself as having done for the previous generation (Deuteronomy 1:15-18). There he had established them with a system of justice ready for entry into the land but they had refused to enter it when Yahweh commanded. Now he was preparing their sons for entry into the land in a similar way.

Justice was to be provided for in a number of ways:

1). By the appointment of satisfactory judges (Deuteronomy 16:18-20)

2). By rejecting Canaanite methods of justice (Deuteronomy 16:21-22). He reiterated the necessity for the abolition of idolatry and religious impropriety, and called for the judgment of it in the presence of witnesses (Deuteronomy 16:21 to Deuteronomy 17:7).

3). By setting up a final court of appeal. Here he dealt with what to do when major judicial problems arose (Deuteronomy 17:8-13).

4). By legislating what kind of king to appoint when they wanted a king. At present they had him. Shortly he would be replaced by Joshua. Then would come a time when they needed another supreme leader and here he faced up to the issue of possible kingship, an issue that, in view of certain prophecies revealed in the patriarchal records (Genesis 17:6; Genesis 17:16; Genesis 35:11; Genesis 36:31) would certainly arise in the future, and which Balaam had recently drawn attention to (Numbers 24:17) as on the horizon. Thus it needed to be legislated for so that when the time came they might not appoint the wrong kind of king, and especially they were to be guides as to the kind of king that they should consider (Deuteronomy 17:14-20).

5). By providing for the sustenance of the priesthood and Levites who watch over their spiritual welfare (Deuteronomy 18:1-8).

6). By warning against looking to the occult for guidance and promising instead the coming of other prophets like himself (Deuteronomy 18:9-22).

But while we may see this as a separate unit it is not so in the Hebrew. As we would expect in a speech not prepared by a trained orator it just goes smoothly forward. ‘Thee, thou’ predominates as befits a section dealing with commandments with an occasional subtle introduction of ‘ye, your’.

Verses 1-6

The Three Great Feasts (Deuteronomy 16:1-17 ).

Moses now reminded them that every year Israel were to gather at the three great feasts, Passover, Sevens (Weeks or Harvest) and Tabernacles (or Ingathering/Booths). (See Exodus 23:14-17; Exodus 34:23. Compare for details Exodus 12:0; Leviticus 23:4-38; Numbers 28:16 to Numbers 29:39). This can be compared with the gathering of under-kings to make regular submission to their overlords and offer tribute, often required in treaties. Every adult male in Israel was to be present. Again the idea of joyous worship is stressed (Deuteronomy 16:11; Deuteronomy 16:14).

That all males were to appear in the place of His choosing three times a year 'before Yahweh' or to 'see the face of Yahweh' is constantly emphasised (Exodus 23:17; Exodus 34:23) This was in fact necessary in order to maintain the unity of the tribes and in order to maintain their covenant with God. This probably means all males who were ‘of age’. We are not told about the logistics. They would spread over available land. The weak and infirm together with male children were probably not included in 'all males'.

But all, including women and children, were welcome at the feasts, especially Weeks and Tabernacles (Deuteronomy 16:1-14). It is interesting that wives are not mentioned although daughters (unmarried) and widows are (Deuteronomy 16:11; Deuteronomy 16:14). Perhaps the wives were to stay behind to look after the farms (compare Deuteronomy 3:19, although that was a call to arms, also contrast Deuteronomy 29:11 where wives were specifically mentioned). But it is more likely that the wives were simply seen as one with their husbands, as elsewhere (e.g. Deuteronomy 5:14) and that their presence was thus assumed, not because they were not considered important, but because they were of equal importance with their husbands. God's promise was that none would invade during these times (Exodus 34:23-24).

As these feasts were at times of harvest such times would tend not to be danger periods as all nations would be gathering their own harvests and celebrating their own feasts and would be too busy to make war. (Note 2 Samuel 11:1 which indicates that there were certain times for invading). Of course the assumption is that the whole land would belong to Israel as other nations would have been driven out (if Israel had been obedient). This was different from the call to arms which could happen at any time when danger threatened or tribal matters had to be sorted out (Judges 20:1).

With these regulations given with regard to the three great feasts we come to an end of this worship section of the speech. No mention is made of the great Day of Atonement, nor of lesser feasts. This is not a general giving of the Law. It is a speech given to the people to encourage them and prepare them for their direct responsibilities in connection with entering the land and possessing it.

Deuteronomy generally avoids what mainly involves the priests and priestly functions. That information Moses has dealt with in other records. Even in dealing with uncleanness it has concentrated only on what the people had to make positive choices about with regard to it. And when he deals with priests and Levites in Deuteronomy 18:0 it is in order to describe the people’s duties with regard to them. It is this emphasis which explains why he never actually clearly and specifically differentiates between the responsibilities of priests and Levites, although once one accepts the differentiation given elsewhere it is clear where he does differentiate them.

It will be noted that little detail is given as to how the feasts are to be observed from the priests’ point of view. Apart from the bare bones, all the concentration is on the aspects connected with the people. Thus at the feast of Passover and unleavened bread the actual sacrificing is seen as performed by the people and then partaken of, and the matter of the leaven is dwelt on more fully, while in the other feasts the sacrificial offerings are ignored and all the emphasis is on joyful participation in the feasting.

(The whole chapter is ‘thou’ throughout).

The Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread (Deuteronomy 16:1-8 ).

Here the whole feast is called the Passover (in Deuteronomy 16:17 it is called the feast of unleavened bread). It is celebrated in the month of Abib (the ancient name for Nisan), ‘the month of the ripening ears’. Its name probably dates back to the patriarchs and their sojourn in Canaan. It came around March/April, commencing at the new moon. First came the strict Passover, which was celebrated on the afternoon of 14th of Abib by the slaying of lambs, with the feast going on overnight to the following morning at the time of the full moon. This was then followed by the seven days of unleavened bread, 15th-21st of Abib, beginning with a festal sabbath and ending on a festal sabbath. (There could thus be three sabbaths during the seven days, the two festal sabbaths and the weekly Sabbath).

The Description of the Feast (Deuteronomy 16:1-6 ).

Analysis in the words of Moses:

a Observe the month of Abib, and keep the passover to Yahweh your God, for in the month of Abib Yahweh your God brought you out of Egypt by night (Deuteronomy 16:1).

b And you shall sacrifice the passover to Yahweh your God, of the flock and the herd, in the place which Yahweh shall choose, to cause His name to dwell there (Deuteronomy 16:2).

c You shall eat no leavened bread with it; seven days shall you eat unleavened bread with it, even the bread of affliction, for you came forth out of the land of Egypt in fearful haste (Deuteronomy 16:3 a).

c That you may remember the day when you came forth out of the land of Egypt all the days of your life and there shall be no leaven seen with you in all your borders seven days, neither shall any of the flesh, which you sacrifice the first day at even, remain all night until the morning (Deuteronomy 16:3-4).

b You may not sacrifice the passover within any of your gates, which Yahweh your God gives you, but at the place which Yahweh your God shall choose, to cause His name to dwell in (Deuteronomy 16:5).

a There you shall sacrifice the passover at even, at the going down of the sun, at the season that you came forth out of Egypt (Deuteronomy 16:6).

§

In ‘a’ they are to observe the month of Abib, and keep the passover to Yahweh your God, for in the month of Abib Yahweh their God brought them out of Egypt by night, and in the parallel they will sacrifice the passover at even, at the going down of the sun, at the season that they came forth out of Egypt. In ‘b’ they are to sacrifice the Passover to Yahweh their God, of the flock and the herd, in the place which Yahweh shall choose, to cause His name to dwell there, and in the parallel they may not sacrifice the Passover within any of their gates, which Yahweh their God gives them, but at the place which Yahweh their God chooses, to cause his name to dwell in. In ‘c’ they are not to eat leavened bread with it (‘it’ here means the whole round of sacrifices at this feast, for in what follows ‘it’ is eaten for seven days, and above it includes cattle); for seven days they must eat unleavened bread with it, even the bread of affliction, for they ‘came forth out of the land of Egypt’ in fearful haste, and in the parallel it is so that they may remember the day when they came forth out of the land of Egypt all the days of their lives and there was therefore no leaven to be seen within all their borders for seven days, neither was any of the flesh, which they sacrificed the first day at even, remain all night until the morning.

It will be observed therefore that the final two verses describing the Passover actually pass over into the Feast of Sevens Yet it is also clear that they closely connect with Deuteronomy 16:1-6, which they assume. The passage goes on smoothly, but there is here at this point the flicker of a movement on in the mind of the speaker, rather than in Deuteronomy 16:9. (We must beware of allowing our division into sections to make us think that Moses was preaching in sections. He was not. Thus could he have two chiasmi where the subjects run into each other).

Deuteronomy 16:1-2

Observe the month of Abib, and keep the passover to Yahweh your God, for in the month of Abib Yahweh your God brought you out of Egypt by night. And you shall sacrifice the passover to Yahweh your God, of the flock and the herd, in the place which Yahweh shall choose, to cause his name to dwell there.’

The Passover was observed on 14th of Abib but no mention of that is made here. Nor are the other feasts specifically dated. Moses did not want to state the obvious. This is a further indication of Mosaic ‘authorship’. A later writer would probably have felt it necessary to date the events more specifically. ‘Observe the month --’ may signify all the different religious days in it, thus the opening new moon day on the 1st of Abib, the setting aside of the lambs/kids on the 10th, and the weekly Sabbaths, as well as Passover itself including the feast of unleavened bread with its special sabbaths on the opening and closing days. The whole month was seen as important because it was the month of deliverance, and Moses wanted it to be well remembered.

The Passover night, with the lamb (or kid) having been slain towards evening, was itself a feast of remembrance as through the night they partook of the lamb along with bitter herbs and unleavened bread and during it would go through the question and answer ritual connected with the Passover (Exodus 12:26-27). It was a reminder of how Yahweh had brought them out of Egypt ‘by night’, that is, in dark times.

“And you shall sacrifice the passover to Yahweh your God, of the flock and the herd, in the place which Yahweh shall choose, to cause his name to dwell there.” But there had been, or was now to be, a change in the pattern. On the actual Passover night the lambs had been slain within the houses and the blood put on the doorposts. Now the sacrificing of the Passover lambs was to take place at ‘the place which God shall choose, to cause His name to dwell there’. Leaving their homes they were all to come together to sacrifice in His presence, at the place to which He Himself had chosen to come and dwell. He wanted to be a part with them in their celebrations, and they were His sons (Deuteronomy 14:1) gathered at His earthly home. But it would still also be a family affair for the actual eating would take place in households gathered around the sanctuary in the place of Yahweh’s choice. There is no mention of priestly participation, but they would almost certainly apply the blood to the altar.

In fact this alteration of the Passover celebration was necessary so that the seven days that followed could be one of the triad of feasts at the Central Sanctuary.

We note here, however, that ‘the sacrifice’ mentioned in the verse was to be ‘from the flock and from the herd’. This was different from the Passover offering which was to be a lamb or kid. Was this then a change in the ritual? The fact is that this is probably not intended to indicate that the specific Passover sacrifice could be an ox bull instead of a lamb, it rather probably means that by the phrase ‘sacrificing the Passover’ Moses is indicating all the offerings and sacrifices that would take place over the eight days of the Passover, which would include both ox bulls and lambs.

This would seem to be confirmed by Deuteronomy 16:3 which indicates that ‘keep the Passover’ is seen as including the whole seven days of the feast that follows. The whole was to be observed ‘to Yahweh their God’, that is in honour of Him, in recognition of Him and in accordance with what He had laid down. For details see Exodus 12:0; Exodus 23:14-17; Leviticus 23:5-8; Numbers 28:16-25.

Deuteronomy 16:3

You shall eat no leavened bread with it; seven days shall you eat unleavened bread with it, even the bread of affliction, for you came forth out of the land of Egypt in fearful haste, that you may remember the day when you came forth out of the land of Egypt all the days of your life.’

“With it”, that is with ‘the sacrifice of the Passover’ they were to eat no leavened bread, and ‘with it’ they were to eat unleavened bread for seven days. If they can eat unleavened bread ‘with it’ for seven days (and the Passover sacrifice’s remains must not be kept once morning breaks of Passover night) this seems to confirm that ‘sacrificing the Passover’ covers all the sacrifices over the eight days (note also ‘the first day at even’ in verse 4 which suggests that the whole feast was seen as one). Compare 2 Chronicles 35:1-19 where keeping of the Passover also included both feasts, the whole being called ‘Passover’. The unleavened bread was a symbol of the speed and anxiety with which they had left Egypt ‘in fearful haste’ without having time to leaven the bread, but was also to be seen as ‘the bread of affliction’, suggesting that in some way their bondage had meant that they regularly had to use unleavened bread. All this was to be repeated yearly so that they would remember that day when they came out of Egypt all their lives.

Besides the actual memorial there was behind this much symbolism beyond that which has been mentioned. Leaven was a symbol of corruption, which was why it was excluded from grain offerings, and the removal of all leaven from the whole country was therefore a symbol of the need for them to be free from corruption. Even those who could not come to the feast had to observe the prohibition of leaven.

It is very possible that the feast of unleavened bread was already an ancient feast, probably in that case going back to the time of the patriarchs in Canaan, for they would unquestionably have celebrated religious feasts at different important times of the year as all their neighbours did, both to celebrate lambing and to celebrate harvests of various kinds, and once established these would have carried on through the centuries in the old way even though the move to Egypt resulted in different seasons. People did not easily relinquish old customs which were treasured and passed on from one generation to another. And the full moon feast in the month of Abib was probably one such. There is, however, no evidence for this, and no hint in the records of it (lambing was not at this time in the Ancient Near East). Whether the same was true of Passover is debatable. That was probably a new addition to an old feast because of the night of deliverance, but opinions differ even on that (although it is all simply educated guesswork).

“Seven days.” The ‘seven day’ feast was a regular concept, for ‘seven’ emphasised its divine perfection. This feast was in total for seven and a bit days (the afternoon of the 14th to the eve of the 21st), described as ‘seven’ for the reason mentioned. The feast of Tabernacles was also a seven day feast.

Deuteronomy 16:4

And there shall be no leaven seen with you in all your borders seven days, neither shall any of the flesh, which you sacrifice the first day at even, remain all night until the morning.’

Indeed all leaven was to be excluded from all dwellings within their borders for ‘seven days’, and no flesh of the Passover lamb, which was sacrificed in the ‘evening’ (mid-afternoon before twilight) of the first day and consumed during the night, must remain until the morning of the 15th. It must either all be eaten or burned with fire (Exodus 12:10). This last was because of its holiness, and because it must all be connected with ‘that day’. Burning with fire took it to Yahweh.

Deuteronomy 16:5-6

You may not sacrifice the passover within any of your gates, which Yahweh your God gives you, but at the place which Yahweh your God shall choose, to cause his name to dwell in, there you shall sacrifice the passover at even, at the going down of the sun, at the season that you came forth out of Egypt.’

It is stressed again that they must not sacrifice the Passover in their own cities or towns ‘given to them by Yahweh’, but must sacrifice it at the place which Yahweh their God has chosen as the place where His name might dwell. It must be sacrificed before Him and enjoyed in His presence. The clear purpose here is that the feast would be a perpetual living again of that night of deliverance lived out in the very presence of Yahweh, their Overlord.

Note the emphasis on the fact that their cities will have been given to them by Yahweh (Deuteronomy 16:5). Some in Transjordan have already been received. Thus the deliverance of the Passover will have finally resulted in full possession of the land. They would have much to celebrate.

If these details were written as a guide to keeping the Passover ‘week’ it fails miserably. No attention is paid at all to the offerings and sacrifices. But as part of a speech involving the people in the Passover celebrations it is admirable. It describes their part totally satisfactorily.

For us who are Christians it is a reminder that we look to a greater Passover lamb and a greater deliverance. We too must rid ourselves of all leaven, of all that corrupts and defiles (1 Corinthians 5:8). We too look to the Passover Lamb, the One Who died for us (1 Corinthians 5:7). We too celebrate it by gathering with Him through His blood at the Father’s dwellingplace, although ours is in Heaven (Hebrews 8:1-2; Hebrews 9:11-14; Hebrews 10:19-25).

Verses 7-12

The Passover and the Feast of Sevens (Deuteronomy 16:7-12 ).

Deuteronomy 16:7-8 is part of the chiasmus for the feast of sevens, and yet it continues on smoothly from Deuteronomy 16:1-6. But remembering that we shall now consider them along with the Feast of Sevens (the one day feast of weeks or harvest or firstfruits) in relation to them. This feast occurred ‘seven sevens’ (of days) after the feast of unleavened bread. Unlike the other ‘seven day’ feasts this was a one day feast. Strictly speaking we should not speak of ‘weeks’ for that was not how it was thought of, and the seven sevens did not commence on a particular ‘day of the week’.

They began on the day after the initial first day sabbath of Unleavened Bread (that is on the evening of that sabbath after sundown) when the sheaf of the waveoffering, the first result of the putting in of the sickle to the standing grain, was brought at the feast of unleavened bread (Leviticus 23:15). It was the evening after the night of the Passover feast. Thus the two feasts were joined by a divine string of sevens. Their way of thinking about time was partly dominated by seven as an indication that Yahweh controlled their time, and that their times were in His hand. But their overall calendar was dominated by the movements of the moon, because that was convenient. That is why they necessarily had a sacred calendar and an agricultural calendar, although the two intermingled. (They were not at this stage ‘calendar minded’).

Analysis in the words of Moses:

a And you shall roast and eat it in the place which Yahweh your God shall choose, and you shall turn in the morning, and go to your tents (Deuteronomy 16:7).

b Six days you shall eat unleavened bread, and on the seventh day shall be a solemn assembly to Yahweh your God. You shall do no work (Deuteronomy 16:8).

c Seven sevens shall you number to you, from the time you begin to put the sickle to the standing grain shall you begin to number seven sevens (Deuteronomy 16:9).

c And you shall keep the feast of sevens to Yahweh your God with a tribute of a freewill-offering of your hand, which you shall give, according as Yahweh your God blesses you (Deuteronomy 16:10).

b And you shall rejoice before Yahweh your God, you, and your son, and your daughter, and your man-servant, and your maid-servant, and the Levite that is within your gates, and the resident alien, and the fatherless, and the widow, that are in the midst of you, in the place which Yahweh your God shall choose, to cause His name to dwell there (Deuteronomy 16:11).

a And you shall remember that you were a bondsman in Egypt, and you shall observe and do these statutes (Deuteronomy 16:12).

Note than in ‘a’ they are to roast and eat it (the Passover lamb) in the place which Yahweh their God shall choose, and they shall turn in the morning, and go their your tents (a reminder of the days of journeying), and in the parallel they will remember that they were bondsmen in Egypt and observe and do these statutes. In ‘b’ the seventh day of unleavened bread was to be a solemn assembly, and in it no work would be done (certainly a cause of celebration among their servants), and in the parallel (at the feast of sevens) they were to rejoice before Yahweh their God and this would include their servants and the poor who would all partake in the feast. Thus both feasts offered special blessing to the servants. In ‘c’ we discover the direct connection between Unleavened Bread and Sevens. They were to number seven sevens from the time they began to put the sickle to the standing grain, and the sheaf of the wave-offering was offered on the evening after the first day sabbath of Unleavened Bread, and in the parallel they would then keep the Feast of Sevens to Yahweh their God with a tribute of a freewill-offering from their hand, which they were to give according as Yahweh their God blessed them. At this feast they would bring the gifts of firstfruits, already symbolised by the sheaf offered when the seven sevens count began. Thus in a sense the two feasts ran into each other, and as the men went to their harvesting they were very much aware that they had seven sevens of days (excluding the Sabbaths and the six further days of Unleavened Bread) for their harvesting. God and His giving would constantly be kept in mind.

This flowing from one feast of rejoicing to another is very much a people’s aspect of things which again points to this being intended in a speech to the people, and not as some artificial law-book.

Deuteronomy 16:7

And you shall roast and eat it in the place which Yahweh your God shall choose, and you shall turn in the morning, and go to your tents.’

We are still at the Passover. Again the emphasis is on the place which Yahweh would choose. This emphasises His sovereignty in the arrangement. He is their Lord, they are His subjects. He has chosen this place for Him to dwell in and for them to come with their sacrifices. It would appear from this that the Passover was celebrated in the open air, the men and the households sitting together among the many other households on the holy ground around the tabernacle, the ‘place’ chosen by Yahweh. Strictly only the men were required to gather at the feasts, but they would regularly bring some or most of their households with them as Deuteronomy 12:18 makes clear. It was to be ‘roasted’ (bishel). The verb simply means ‘cooked’ and can mean either roasted or boiled, but Exodus 12:8-9 declares that it should be roasted, and when the verb refers to boiling, ‘with water’ is normally added. Compare 2 Chronicles 35:13 a where the verb means ‘cooked’ and ‘ with fire’ is added, while in Numbers 11:8; 2 Samuel 13:8 it refers to cooking cakes. In Akkadian the verb basalu also means to cook by roasting or boiling. Thus we can translate here ‘roasting’. Once the feast was over they would retire to their tents (compare Deuteronomy 1:7; Deuteronomy 5:30; Deuteronomy 11:6). If taken literally this would confirm that ‘the place’ in mind was not originally Jerusalem, although ‘going to their tents’ (compare 2 Samuel 20:1; 1 Kings 12:16) was used later of going to houses. But the main point here is that the tents reminded them of the deliverance. From Passover night they then lived in tents.

Deuteronomy 16:8

Six days you shall eat unleavened bread, and on the seventh day shall be a solemn assembly to Yahweh your God. You shall do no work.’

For six days unleavened bread must be eaten, and the final day of the seven was to be a solemn sabbath, a day for public rites and festival, in which no work was to be done. Of course on that day also unleavened bread was to be eaten. (Compare Deuteronomy 16:4. If all leaven had been removed from within their borders as previously asserted there would anyway be no alternative). It was to be a day of rest and rejoicing for all, and the count down to the Feast of Svens had already begun.

Verses 9-12

The Feast of Sevens or Harvest or Day of The Firstfruits (Deuteronomy 16:9-12 ).

Deuteronomy 16:9

Seven sevens shall you number to you, from the time you begin to put the sickle to the standing grain shall you begin to number seven sevens.’

This count of seven sevens was to commence the day after the sabbath when the sheaf of the waveoffering, the first result of the putting in of the sickle to the standing grain, was brought at the feast of unleavened bread (Leviticus 23:15). The seven sevens (forty nine days) hopefully gave time for the harvesting of first the barley, and then the wheat, to be completed. Then after the markedly divine period (seven sevens) the feast could be held on the fiftieth day (thus in Greek ‘Pente-cost’). But if in some years it was not, all could be fitted in around the one day feast. The so-called Gezer calendar (10th century BC), possibly a schoolboy’s record of the agricultural months of the year in view of its rough nature, mentions a month for barley harvesting and a month for harvesting ‘everything else’.

Deuteronomy 16:10

And you shall keep the feast of sevens to Yahweh your God with a tribute of a freewill-offering of your hand, which you shall give, according as Yahweh your God blesses you,’

No ritual detail is here given of the feast, but rather emphasis is laid on the bringing of tribute, a freewill offering which they were to bring according to how Yahweh had blessed them. He is concerned with the people’s part in it. The harvest having been mainly gathered they would know exactly how far they had been blessed, at least as far as the harvests were concerned. It was a gift of gratitude and an act of submission. But there is no detailed legislation concerning the feast. For information about the priest’s part in it see, for example, Numbers 28:26-31; Leviticus 23:15-21.

Deuteronomy 16:11

And you shall rejoice before Yahweh your God, you, and your son, and your daughter, and your man-servant, and your maid-servant, and the Levite that is within your gates, and the resident alien, and the fatherless, and the widow, that are in the midst of you, in the place which Yahweh your God shall choose, to cause his name to dwell there.’

It was anticipated that many in each household would come to this feast, and there before Yahweh they would rejoice together, along with the Levite, the resident alien who had chosen to dwell among them, and the bereft. These last were never to be forgotten in the celebrations. Levites were spread throughout the land for the purpose of their fulfilling of their responsibilities. Levitical priests on the other hand would live fairly conveniently to the Tabernacle.

None were to be excluded from the celebrations. It was a time for rejoicing by all, including bondsmen and bondswomen. And the fatherless and widows must be given full consideration. It was to be a compassionate society, not regulated from the top except by these Laws, but from the heart.

This one day feast of rejoicing would connect their minds back to the seventh day of Unleavened Bread which had been their previous holy-day of rejoicing and feasting and resting (Deuteronomy 16:8).

Deuteronomy 16:12

And you shall remember that you were a bondsman in Egypt, and you shall observe and do these statutes.’

Remembering that they had been bondsmen in Egypt was to affect most of their thinking, but especially at their feasts and when dealing with their own bondsmen and with the poor. It would increase their rejoicing, and increase their consideration for their servants and for the needy.

Verses 13-15

The Feast of Tabernacles (Booths, Ingathering) - (Deuteronomy 16:13-15 ).

This feast is passed over very briefly, not because it was not important, for it was the feast at which the whole Law had to be read out every seven years (Deuteronomy 31:10-13), but because what Moses has been emphasising has already mainly been spelled out. This is very understandable given the context, but would be unlikely in someone who was inventing the speech afterwards. It is typical of a speaker who is conscious of the time his speech is taking and does not wish to weary his listeners by going through the same thing again and again.

Analysis in the words of Moses:

a You shall keep the feast of tabernacles seven days, after that you have gathered in from your threshing-floor and from your winepress (Deuteronomy 16:13).

b And you shall rejoice in your feast, you, and your son, and your daughter, and your man-servant, and your maid-servant, and the Levite, and the resident alien, and the fatherless, and the widow, that are within your gates (Deuteronomy 16:14).

b Seven days shall you keep a feast to Yahweh your God in the place which Yahweh shall choose (Deuteronomy 16:15 a).

a Because Yahweh your God will bless you in all your increase, and in all the work of your hands, and you shall be altogether joyful (Deuteronomy 16:15 b)

Note that in ‘a’ they are to keep the feast in view of all the abundance of harvests that they have received, and in the parallel it is because Yahweh has blessed them in all their increase, and in all the work of their hands. Thus are they to be altogether joyful. In ‘b’ they are all to rejoice in their feast from the highest to the lowest, none are to be excluded, and in the parallel they shall keep the feast to Yahweh their God for seven days in the place which He will choose.

Deuteronomy 16:13-14

You shall keep the feast of tabernacles seven days, after that you have gathered in from your threshing-floor and from your winepress, and you shall rejoice in your feast, you, and your son, and your daughter, and your man-servant, and your maid-servant, and the Levite, and the resident alien, and the fatherless, and the widow, that are within your gates.’

The Feast of Tabernacles was celebrated at the end of the agricultural year. By this time not only had the barley and wheat harvest been gathered, but also the grape harvest and the summer fruits. The threshing floor and the winepress had done their job and it was now time to celebrate and look forward to the coming rains which would enable the commencing of the round all over again.

It was thus a special time of rejoicing, and all were to have a part in it. The description given, as constantly used in this regard in Deuteronomy, is intended to include everyone in the land who owes allegiance to Yahweh.

Deuteronomy 16:15

Seven days shall you keep a feast to Yahweh your God in the place which Yahweh shall choose, because Yahweh your God will bless you in all your increase, and in all the work of your hands, and you shall be altogether joyful.’

Again the feast was to be kept for ‘seven days’ demonstrating the divine perfection of the feast, and was to be held in the place where Yahweh had been pleased to take up His dwelling. This feast at the end of the agricultural ‘year’ or season was to be held because Yahweh would have blessed their increase throughout the year, all their harvests would have been gathered in, and everything would have been more than satisfactory. Thus they would be altogether joyful, and they were to demonstrate the fact.

For details of the priestly functions at this feast see Numbers 29:12-38; Leviticus 23:33-36. There would, of course, also be a multitude of freewill offerings.

Verses 16-17

The Threefold Feasts (Deuteronomy 16:16-17 ).

The meeting three times a year was a covenant requirement, an act of loyalty and a requirement for tribute. By this the covenant was continually confirmed.

Analysis in the words of Moses:

a Three times in a year shall all your males appear before Yahweh your God in the place which He shall choose (Deuteronomy 16:16 a).

b In the feast of unleavened bread, and in the feast of sevens, and in the feast of tabernacles (Deuteronomy 16:16 b)

b And they shall not appear before Yahweh empty (Deuteronomy 16:17 a).

a Every man shall give as he is able, according to the blessing of Yahweh your God which he has given you (Deuteronomy 16:17 b).

Here we have both progression and chiasmus. In the chiasmus in ‘a’ they are to appear at these great feasts three times a year and in the parallel they are to give as Yahweh has blessed them. In ‘b’ the three feasts are detailed, and it is emphasised that they must not appear before Him empty. The assumption behind this is that Yahweh has blessed them, but in return they are to bring their tribute and thanksgiving gifts in their hands.

Deuteronomy 16:16-17

Three times in a year shall all your males appear before Yahweh your God in the place which he shall choose; in the feast of unleavened bread, and in the feast of sevens, and in the feast of tabernacles, and they shall not appear before Yahweh empty, every man shall give as he is able, according to the blessing of Yahweh your God which he has given you.’

Note the names used for the feasts, ‘unleavened bread’ because that side of it has been Moses’ emphasis in this speech as far as the people were concerned, ‘sevens’ because it indicated the divine content of the feasts, and ‘tabernacles’ because the people would be erecting and spending their time in tents. The first and third were features of their direct participation, and the second emphasised an expectancy of divine participation. They baked the bread and ate it, they erected the tents and lived in them, and they waited the seven sevens in expectancy. It made them feel as though they were taking part even while they were listening. The name Passover stressed the sacrificial side, and Harvest (Exodus 23:16) and Ingathering (Exodus 23:66; Exodus 34:22) as used elsewhere were more descriptions of their purpose. Thus those names were not used here. Here the concentration was on the people’s participation.

So all the males of Israel were to gather for these three feasts, unleavened bread, sevens and tabernacles, every year, appearing ‘before Yahweh’ in the place where He had chosen to dwell and establish His authority. And there they were to pay their tribute. They were not to come empty. If Yahweh’s commands were carried out none would need to appear empty. And they must be ready to give as they were able in accordance with the blessing that they had received from Yahweh.

It would be an act of tribute to their Overlord, an expression of gratitude to their Father (as His sons - Deuteronomy 14:1), and an act of commitment and dedication for the future. For the males it was compulsory, but all were welcome, and a good time was to be had by all as they rejoiced together in Yahweh’s presence declaring their gratitude and love.

The emphasis on the males was because they mainly had responsibility for the running of their communities, for fighting their battles, and for deciding issues connected with the covenant. It was necessary that all of them be there when reasonably possible, for at the feasts many issues connected with the community would be thrashed out, and major judgments decided. It represented in fact a semi-democracy. They might also be necessary in case one or two tribes were feeling recalcitrant. Others apart from the men were welcome but were not as necessary, and indeed some might well be required to stay at home while the males were away. This probably refers to all free males over a certain age. Had it not been a strict requirement many may have sought to opt out. As it was they knew that non-appearance was the equivalent of treason unless a cast iron case could be made for absence.

So here we come to the end of this section commencing at Deuteronomy 12:1 which has stressed their needing to worship Yahweh in spiritual fitness and joy, free from idolatry (Deuteronomy 13:0), living cleanly and wholesomely (Deuteronomy 14:0), being generous to the needy (Deuteronomy 14:28 to Deuteronomy 15:18), worshipping in joy (Deuteronomy 16:0) and bringing their offerings and tithes and firstlings to Him, and all at the place which He would choose..

Verses 18-20

The Need To Appoint Satisfactory Judges (Deuteronomy 16:18-20 ).

Crucial to enjoying blessing in the land was the establishing of a satisfactory system of justice. There can be no question that a fair and effective justice system produces the maximum benefit for everyone, even though some prefer to be without it because they are greedy and in their hearts godless. To distort justice is to dishonour God, and He will eventually call to account all who do so. As we have already noted, in Deuteronomy 1:15-17 a fair system of justice was declared by Moses to have been one of the great benefits that Yahweh had given their fathers, and their failure to respond to Yahweh was in the light of it seen to be most culpable.

Analysis in the words of Moses.

a Judges and officers shall you make yourselves in all your gates, which Yahweh your God gives you, according to your tribes (Deuteronomy 16:18 a).

b And they shall judge the people with righteous judgment (Deuteronomy 16:18 b).

b You shall not wrest justice, you shall not respect persons (literally ‘you shall not recognise faces’), nor shall you take a bribe, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise, and perverts the words of the righteous (Deuteronomy 16:19).

a That which is altogether just shall you follow, that you may live, and inherit the land which Yahweh your God gives you (Deuteronomy 16:20).

Note that in ‘a’ judges were to be appointed ‘ in all your gates which Yahweh your God gives you ’ and in the parallel they were to follow all that was just ‘ and inherit the land which Yahweh your God gives you ’. In ‘b’ they were to judge righteously and in the parallel they were reminded how.

Deuteronomy 16:18

Judges and officers shall you (thou) make yourselves in all your gates, which Yahweh your God gives you, according to your tribes, and they shall judge the people with righteous judgment.’

Once they were established in the cities and towns which Yahweh was about to give them, and were no longer under military jurisdiction, they must appoint judges and officers to watch over legal affairs. Each city and town was to have its civil judiciary, usually selected from among the elders of the town because of their wide experience, their acknowledged ability and their knowledge of God’s Instruction (the Torah), who would meet at the gate of the city or town where there would be an open space. With them would be officials appointed to ensure that justice was carried out (compare Deuteronomy 22:13-19; Deuteronomy 25:2; Deuteronomy 25:5-10; Ruth 4:0; Hosea 7:7; Hosea 13:10; Isaiah 1:26; Isaiah 3:2; Micah 7:3). These would then be responsible to tribal leaders over the tribal areas (Joshua 14-19). And all must judge righteous judgments (compare John 7:24). They must judge according to His Instruction. Obedience to His Instruction (Torah - ‘Law’) is the foundation for much of what follows.

Deuteronomy 16:19

You shall not wrest justice, you shall not respect persons (literally ‘you shall not recognise faces’), nor shall you take a bribe, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise, and perverts the words of the righteous.’

Note the threefoldness of the command, ‘You shall not wrest (or pervert) justice, you shall not respect persons, you shall not take a bribe’. This is a charter for the justices. They must neither distort or pervert justice (compare Deuteronomy 24:17; Deuteronomy 27:19; Exodus 23:6), nor take account of who the litigants were, whether influential nobles or relative nobodies, whether wealthy or impoverished, nor must they take a bribe or sweetener (God does not and neither should man - Deuteronomy 10:17). Nor must they allow such things to change their view of the evidence, nor use their skills to distort the honesty of righteous men. Alternately the last idea may be that the bribe might make even the righteous give false witness.

Injustice and corruption are a shame on any country, and the unfortunate lot of all. ‘A bribe blinds the eyes of the wise, and perverts the word of the righteous.’ If we had seen this by itself we could easily have taken it as being from the book of Proverbs (although it is not. Proverbs could not conceive of the wise behaving like this) and was possibly a saying that was current in the camp, compare Exodus 23:8 from where it is taken.

Taking these two verses along with Deuteronomy 17:8-13 note the parallels withdeu Deuteronomy 1:15-18. These are (1) the importance of impartiality in administering justice, (2) the way that the judges and officials were to be appointed with the approval of the people, (3) the link with the tribal system, and (4) the fact of a God-provided authority which could be appealed to. In the final analysis the last appeal was to Yahweh through His chosen representatives.

But note also the difference in the description of the officials. Here we have an organised system for ruling the towns and cities which they were shortly to possess, while Deuteronomy 1:15-18 described more a system overruled by line commanders over groups, more suitable for journeying. All fits into place.

Through the ages justice has been commonly distorted by all these methods described, and in general is as much so today. The use of influence to obtain decisions is commonplace in local authorities (in spite of the pretence that it is not), people with influence, or who have the right friends, get their own way, while others are relatively ignored; bribery and corruption of different kinds are influential at all levels of society, while political ends regularly sway decisions. Regularly local courts do not have time to consider the true merits of individual cases and judgments are arbitrary and in favour of legal representatives, and tribunals heavily favour one side or the other. The truth is that in our society true justice is too expensive for lower level situations. ‘Justice’ is run on the cheap. Fortunately in the larger cases there is even today a general regard for justice in many democratic countries, but it is the only in that sphere that it can be confidently expected to be obtained in most cases.

Deuteronomy 16:20

That which is altogether just shall you follow, that you may live, and inherit the land which Yahweh your God gives you.’

Rather than perverting justice they were to follow it assiduously. It was vital that Yahweh’s people be absolutely just in all their dealings, aware that Yahweh knew their very thoughts and the genuineness of their actions. Thus by truly following justice they would inherit the land that Yahweh their God was giving them. The reverse implication is that if injustice prevailed they would lose their land.

These verses bring home to us all, that God looks for us to deal fairly and righteously in all circumstances. Anything else is displeasing to Him. He does not practise positive discrimination.

Verses 21-22

A Ban On All Religious Objects And Behaviour Which Would Dishonour Yahweh And Make Them Unfit As Judges (Deuteronomy 16:21 to Deuteronomy 17:1 ).

It is quite possible that certain matters of justice among the Canaanites (both in Canaan, and in Egypt where Canaanites settled) were decided at Canaanite sanctuaries, with pillars and Asherah involved in the procedures. If so such a procedure was not to be followed by Israel. It would reveal the judges as unfit to judge. So would the offering of blemished sacrifices. All would demonstrate an attitude of mind that was contrary to Yahweh. For where God was to be involved Israel must rather come to the priests and the supreme judge (Deuteronomy 17:9), in the courtyard of the tabernacle, in the place where Yahweh would choose to dwell (Deuteronomy 17:8; Deuteronomy 17:10), where any difficult case could be settled before Yahweh (Deuteronomy 17:12).

Analysis using the words of Moses.

· “You shall not plant yourself an Asherah of any kind of tree beside the altar of Yahweh your God, which you shall make for yourself (Deuteronomy 16:21).

· Nor shall you set yourself up a pillar, which Yahweh your God hates (Deuteronomy 16:22).

· You shall not sacrifice to Yahweh your God an ox, or a sheep, in which is a blemish, or anything evil (Deuteronomy 17:1 a).

· For that is an abomination to Yahweh your God (Deuteronomy 17:1 b).

Note in ‘a’ that to plant an Asherah (female goddess) which they had made for themselves next to the altar of Yahweh their God, and parallel to that is a general statement which covers these verses. All of them are an abomination to Yahweh their God. In ‘b’ nor were they to set up a pillar which Yahweh their God hates, nor in the parallel were they to offer to Yahweh their God a sacrifice of a blemished ox or sheep, or one in which there was evil (or disfavour or anything disagreeable). Thus a blemished offering is equally an abomination to Yahweh their God as an Asherah or Pillar in Yahweh’s Dwellingplace.

Deuteronomy 16:21

You shall not plant yourself an Asherah of any kind of tree beside the altar of Yahweh your God, which you shall make for yourself.’

Having established the altar of Yahweh their God at the place which Yahweh would choose as His dwellingplace, they must brook no rivals. No handmade Asherah image or pole, of any kind of wood whatsoever, was permitted beside His altar. Asherah, a Canaanite goddess, was represented at Canaanite sanctuaries either by a wooden image or a pole representing a tree (it is not certain which), probably as the wife of the Baal who was the main god there, the latter often represented by a stone pillar. Such provision of female company for Yahweh was absolutely banned. It was an abomination (Deuteronomy 17:1). Yahweh was above sexual differentiation as to male or female and was not involved in procreation, both of which He brought into being, but did not indulge in Himself. He is Yahweh and above all.

Deuteronomy 16:22

Nor shall you set yourself up a pillar, which Yahweh your God hates.’

Nor were they to set up a pillar by the altar of Yahweh before which men could worship and consult and dispense justice. The thought may have been that the pillar was to represent Yahweh, but as such it would be equally evil. It would be something that Yahweh hated. The stress is on not aping the Canaanites, and on not trying to represent Yahweh in any way. Here we have the second commandment being enforced, no graven images or images of any kind. This did not contradict in any way memorial pillars erected away from the sanctuary which were not for worship and consultation, and were permitted.

Jacob set up memorial pillars to Yahweh (Genesis 28:18; Genesis 31:13; Genesis 31:45; although gratitude could be expressed at them by pouring a libation over them - Genesis 35:14) and Isaiah spoke of a similar memorial pillar being set up on the borders of Egypt when Egypt had begun to seek Yahweh (Isaiah 19:19, compare with this the memorial altar in Joshua 22:26-27 on the border of Transjordan), both of which were acceptable. Memorial pillars were common (Genesis 31:45-54; Genesis 35:20; Exodus 24:4; Joshua 4:1-9; Joshua 24:26-27; 2 Samuel 18:18). None of these had the purpose that men should worship before them.

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Bibliographical Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Deuteronomy 16". "Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/pet/deuteronomy-16.html. 2013.