The opening verses of chapter 4 will govern the narrative portions of Deuteronomy as well as the following books of the Deuteronomistic History (Joshua-Kings). Briefly stated, there are two aspects to this seminal speech: God's promise of the land of Canaan to Abraham is about to be fulfilled; and Israel's occupation of the land is dependant upon their obedience. The juxtaposition of God's free gift of the land and the conditional nature of Israel's continuing occupation will push and pull at each other throughout the historical books. The tension should not be relieved.
Several terms of importance for the rest of Deuteronomy appear in this seminal passage as well. Among these are four terms for the law. While the following differentiations are important and useful, it should be remembered that Deuteronomy itself uses these terms, and others, somewhat interchangeably:
The promise of "life" is also a key concept in Deuteronomy (for example, 5:29, 33; 6:24; 30:19-20; 32:40). This is to be distinguished from a number of related concepts:
NRSV's rendering of yarash as "occupy" in 4:1 and throughout Deuteronomy is unfortunate. Other translations suggest "take possession," but the more literal reading, "inherit" the land, is to be preferred, since the Deuteronomic tradition considers both the land and Israel to be "the inheritance (nahalah) of the Lord." Israel "occupies" the land of Canaan by "driving out" the Canaanites; but since it is God's people (Israel) who inherit God's land when God causes the Canaanites to "hand over the inheritance" (dispossess), the nature of the land as gift is stressed.
4So now, Israel, give heed to the statutes and ordinances that I am teaching you to observe, so that you may live to enter and occupy the land that the Lord, the God of your ancestors, is giving you. 2You must neither add anything to what I command you nor take away anything from it, but keep the commandments of the Lord your God with which I am charging you. 6You must observe them diligently, for this will show your wisdom and discernment to the peoples, who, when they hear all these statutes, will say, Surely this great nation is a wise and discerning people! 7For what other great nation has a god so near to it as the Lord our God is whenever we call to him? 8And what other great nation has statutes and ordinances as just as this entire law that I am setting before you today?
9 But take care and watch yourselves closely, so as neither to forget the things that your eyes have seen nor to let them slip from your mind all the days of your life; make them known to your children and your childrens children
New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org
10 February 2011