Deuteronomy Exhorts Us to Serve Jehovah With Heartfelt Joy
JEHOVAH’S worshipers must serve him faithfully and with heartfelt joy. This the Bible book of Deuteronomy makes clear. (Deuteronomy 28:45-47) And its exhortation to such faithful, joyous service has great import in the lives of 20th-century witnesses of Jehovah.
Deuteronomy was written by the Hebrew prophet Moses on the plains of Moab in 1473 B.C.E. and covers somewhat over two months. Likely, the last chapter was added by Joshua or High Priest Eleazar. Deuteronomy consists of four discourses, as well as a song and a blessing by Moses when Israel was about to enter the Promised Land. (Deuteronomy 1:3; Joshua 1:11; 4:19) In Deuteronomy Moses explained and elaborated on certain points of the Law. Among other things, the book shows that Jehovah demands exclusive devotion. It also warns against false worship and exhorts God’s people to be faithful in his sacred service.
Yet, in what specific ways did the words recorded in Deuteronomy help the Israelites? And how can this book benefit Jehovah’s Witnesses today?
The Israelites have been in the wilderness for about 40 years when Moses now addresses them. In part, he recounts the appointment of judges to assist him. He cites the ten spies’ bad report that led to rebellion and wilderness wanderings. Recalled, too, are victories God made possible. Moses warns against idol making and underscores this by declaring: “Jehovah your God is a consuming fire, a God exacting exclusive devotion.” This is followed by exhortation to obey Jehovah.—Deuteronomy 1:1–4:49.
In a second discourse, Moses first restates the Ten Words and recounts the giving of the Law. Emphasis is laid on loving Jehovah with all the heart, soul and vital force. Child instruction is highlighted. Seven nations of Canaan and their appendages of false worship are designated for destruction. The Israelites are told that they were chosen not because of their righteousness but due to Jehovah’s faithfulness as a covenant keeper. Once in the Promised Land, they must remain obedient and not forget God. Cases of disobedience are reviewed, and heartfelt love and fear of God are shown to be essential. Blessings and maledictions are set before Israel, and obedience to God is urged.—Deuteronomy 5:1–11:32.
Cited next are laws affecting life in the Promised Land. Among these are regulations on destroying vestiges of unclean religion, eating meat and handling blood, dealing with false prophets and apostasy, clean and unclean foods, and tithing. Details are provided on debt releases, slavery and firstborn animals. The three annual festivals are considered, as are certain judicial matters and laws for kings and Levites. After warnings against spiritism, a prophet like Moses is foretold.—Deuteronomy 12:1–18:22.
Among further regulations mentioned are those concerning refuge cities, military exemptions, cleansing from bloodguilt, the marrying of captive women, the firstborn’s right, rebellious sons, regard for others’ property and for life, sexual matters, and ineligibility for membership in the congregation. Still other laws include those dealing with slaves, interest payments and vows. Regulations on such matters as divorce, loans, kindness to the fatherless and to widows, brother-in-law marriage, accurate weights, the offering of firstfruits, and tithing bring this discourse to a close.—Deuteronomy 19:1–26:19.
Moses’ third discourse opens with instructions to write the Law on great stones. Blessings are to be pronounced from Mount Gerizim and maledictions from Mount Ebal. Blessings for obeying God’s commands are then contrasted with curses to be expected for disobedience.—Deuteronomy 27:1–28:68.
In connection with Moses’ fourth discourse, there is a renewal of the covenant between Jehovah and the Israelites. Moses recounts God’s care in the wilderness. Warning is given against disobedience, and Jehovah’s mercy is stressed. Finally, a life-or-death choice is presented. The people of Israel may ‘keep alive by loving Jehovah, listening to his voice and sticking to him.’—Deuteronomy 29:1–30:20.
Moses urges the Israelites to be courageous when entering the Promised Land, for Jehovah is marching with them. The commissioning of Joshua as leader is followed by a prophecy regarding Israel’s rebelliousness. Next, in song, Moses extols Jehovah, foretells woes for Israel’s unfaithfulness but ends with an assurance of divine vengeance coupled with the call, “Be glad, you nations, with his people.” Moses bestows final blessings, after which the 120-year-old prophet views the Land of Promise, dies and is buried by Jehovah in an unmarked grave.—Deuteronomy 31:1–34:12.
The foregoing résumé may well whet your spiritual appetite. But as you read Deuteronomy, significant questions may arise. Let us now anticipate and answer some of them.
Moses’ First Discourse
• 4:15-24—Do these words against image making mean that it is wrong to display photographs of individuals?
These verses prohibit the making of images for false worship. But the Israelites were not prohibited from making images for other purposes. For instance, there were God-approved likenesses of cherubs on the tabernacle tent cloths and on the cover of the sacred ark. It would be inappropriate to associate the usual taking and displaying of photographs with idolatry, unless they were deliberately used for false religious purposes. Normally, there is no Scriptural objection to photography, painting and sculpturing that serve useful or artistic purposes in depicting people or things.
Moses’ Second Discourse
• 6:6-9—Is this command to ‘tie God’s law upon the hand’ to be understood literally?
These verses do not support the practice of wearing phylacteries (small cases containing Bible texts). Rather, the wording points to a figurative application. (Compare Exodus 13:9; Proverbs 7:2, 3.) It is not said that the commands were to be written on something and then worn by a person or attached to doorposts and gates. The Israelites were to keep God’s commands in view at all times, whether they were at home, on the road or near the city gates, where elders handled legal cases. They were to retain God’s law in the heart, teach it to their children and demonstrate by action (as expressed by the hands) that they adhered to it. The people were to identify themselves publicly as upholders of Jehovah’s law, just as if it were written between their eyes for all to see. Similarly, Jehovah’s Witnesses today seek to prove themselves God’s obedient servants. Their hearts move them to obey his Word, and they fill their minds with things that are true, of serious concern, righteous, lovable, virtuous and praiseworthy. In every way they endeavor to show that Jehovah’s commands are before them at all times.—Philippians 4:8; Colossians 3:23.
• 8:3, 4—Does this mean only that the clothing supply was replenished?
The provision of the manna was a continuing miracle. So was the fact that the clothing did not wear out and their feet did not swell during the 40 years in the wilderness. If the clothing supply merely was renewed normally, that would have been no miracle. There would be no difficulty involved in using the same clothing for all those years, because children’s clothes could be passed on to younger ones, and wardrobes would become available for others as adults died. Since the number of the Israelites was nearly the same at the end of the wilderness trek as at the beginning, the original clothing supply would be about right throughout the 40 years.—Numbers 2:32; 26:51.
• 14:21—Since the Israelites could not eat “any body already dead,” why could it be given to an alien resident or sold to a foreigner?
As the Supreme Lawgiver, Jehovah had the right to place certain restrictions upon only the Israelites. They were “a holy people” to him. Other nations did not observe this prohibition against eating an animal that had died of itself. There was nothing unjust about giving an unbled carcass to an alien resident or selling it to a foreigner, for the Israelites did not misrepresent matters and the recipient or buyer acted voluntarily. It may be added that Deuteronomy 14:21 harmonizes with Leviticus 17:10, which forbade the alien resident to eat blood. An alien resident who was a proselyte was not to eat blood, but this prohibition did not apply to an alien resident who was not a full proselyte. Such a person might have uses for an unbled animal carcass viewed as unclean by a faithful Israelite or proselyte.
• 17:5-7—Why was it required that the hand of the witnesses should be first to come upon a person sentenced to death?
Everyone in Israel was to be zealous for true worship and anxious to see that the organization remained clean and that no reproach was brought upon Jehovah’s name. The witnesses were to show such zeal by taking the lead in carrying out the judgment. (Compare Numbers 25:6-9; Deuteronomy 13:6-11.) Of course, it was one thing to testify against someone and quite another to execute the individual. This would make a witness think very carefully in giving evidence, and only a wicked person would give false testimony knowing that he would be the first to act in putting the man or woman to death. Jehovah’s Witnesses can apply these principles by being zealous for the congregation’s cleanness and also very careful about giving truthful testimony. After all, each one of us must answer to the Supreme Judge, Jehovah.—Matthew 12:36, 37.
• 22:5—In view of this prohibition, is it proper for a woman to wear slacks?
The evident purpose of this law was to prevent sex abuses and confusion of sexual identity. In appearance and attire, normally a man wants to look like a male and a woman like a female. For an Israelite to act contrary to this internal sense of propriety could have led to homosexuality. Although both men and women then wore robelike garments, there was a difference between the garb of males and that of females. Similarly, in some parts of the earth today, both men and women wear slacks, though the styles differ for each sex. The principle in this text would not rule out a Christian woman’s wearing slacks sometimes, as when working around the house or on a farm. And according to local custom and necessity, slacks may be the desired attire in very cold climates. The Bible counsels women to “adorn themselves in well-arranged dress, with modesty and soundness of mind.”—1 Timothy 2:9, 10.
• 24:6—How could seizing a hand mill or its upper grindstone as a pledge be like seizing a soul?
Usually, bread was baked daily and grain frequently had to be ground into flour. So a family’s daily bread depended on the hand mill. Mercifully, then, God’s law forbade the seizing of a person’s hand mill or its upper grindstone. To seize either of these would result in depriving the family of its daily bread and would amount to seizing a “soul” or “means of life.”
Final Discourses, Song and Blessing
These texts deal with completely different matters. The point made at Deuteronomy 32:39 is that false gods have no share with the true God, Jehovah, in his saving acts. They are unable to deliver their worshipers from disaster, and such gods were not with Jehovah in anything that he did. Although the “Word” is a god or a mighty one, he does not stand in opposition to Jehovah or act as his rival, as was the case with the false gods.—Deuteronomy 32:12, 37, 38.
• 33:1-29—Why is Simeon not mentioned in this blessing?
Simeon and Levi had cooperated in an act of cruelty, and although they were given portions in Israel, these were not like those of the other tribes. The Levites were given 48 cities throughout the land, whereas Simeon’s lot was enclosed within the territory of Judah. (Genesis 34:13-31; 49:5-7; Joshua 19:9; 21:41, 42) So when Moses turned his attention to Judah, he well knew that Simeon’s portion was included with it. Moreover, the tribe of Simeon came under the general blessing: “Happy you are, O Israel! Who is there like you, a people enjoying salvation in Jehovah?”—Deuteronomy 33:29.
Of Lasting Aid to Faithful Servants
Deuteronomy is of lasting benefit to Jehovah’s servants, and we can draw valuable instruction from it. For instance, during the invasion of Canaan, Joshua implicitly followed counsel now recorded in this book. Similarly, we should readily accept divine guidance. (Deuteronomy 20:15-18; 21:23; Joshua 8:24-29) Jesus Christ quoted from Deuteronomy in successfully resisting Satan. Like Jesus, we acknowledge that man must live on Jehovah’s utterances, that we are not to put God to the test and that we must render sacred service to him alone.—Matthew 4:1-11; Deuteronomy 5:9; 6:13, 16; 8:3.
This book identifies Jehovah as a God exacting exclusive devotion. (Deuteronomy 4:24; 6:15) It also declares: “You must love Jehovah your God with all your heart and all your soul and all your vital force.” (Deuteronomy 6:5) In essence, then, Deuteronomy exhorts us to serve Jehovah faithfully. May we, therefore, render sacred service to him with heartfelt joy.