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Updated on October 11, 2013

Moses' Farewell

The Fifth Book of the Bible

In the Bible, the first book is Genesis, consisting of the beginning of the human race, and the first ancestors of the Hebrew people, including Moses' own ancestors. In the second book, Exodus, Moses took his people out of Egypt. Next came the book entitled Leviticus, which was all about the rules and laws God gave his people. Then, the Book of Numbers established the Hebrew people as a mighty force bent on inhabiting the Promised Land, which God had told Moses would belong to his people. The last of the five books of Moses is Deuteronomy, at the end of which Moses dies. But before he dies, he gives his people a final review of the laws they should live by, and a stern warning never to lose faith in God.

Moses reminds his people, the descendants of Jacob (also known as Israel), of the many things God did for them since they began their forty years of travels away from Egypt, such as advising them when would be the best time to attack their enemies. In fact, the journey of the Hebrews, former slaves of the Egyptians, was filled with doubt and insecurity. But God was there to guide them every step of the way. God spoke to Moses and advised him of what to do next in times of trouble.

One man, Joshua, was especially attentive to Moses and followed all his messages from God with great faith. In the end, Moses chose Joshua to carry on the leadership of the Hebrew people. The next book in the Bible after Deuteronomy is the Book of Joshua.

In Deuteronomy, Moses uses the word Israel frequently to refer to the Hebrew people, who were the descendants, through many generations, of the twelve sons of Jacob, also known as Israel. Moses descended from Levi, one of those sons.

The rules and commandments given to the Hebrews from Moses, as passed on directly from God, are great and wise even to this day. However, we may have trouble understanding some of the guidance, such as directives to kill all men, women, and children inhabiting certain cities and territory. In fact, we'd now call this genocide. Nevertheless, we must read the Bible for what it is--the most influential book possessed by mankind, followed by billions of people everywhere and respected by Jews, Christians, and non-Christians alike.

The laws and rules by which the Hebrew people were to conduct their daily lives within the confines of their own society are very admirable and noble. As God's chosen people, Moses reminded them of their superiority over all other people. Again, this is hard for us to accept, as we like to think of people as being equal in dignity. Yet, this is the teaching of God at this point in history (about 3,000 years ago).

One especially condemned practice in the teachings of Moses, as brought to his people directly from God's speaking to Moses, was the practice of worshiping images and statues. God was, and is, invisible. This was the faith of the Hebrew nation (and still the faith of just about every nation on earth today). But in olden times, statues and images of things and animals often were worshiped instead of an invisible God. Again, we must wonder if perhaps those people just used these images to remind them of the goodness and power of God. But by the time of Deuteronomy, such people were to be condemned, even slaughtered.

In Deuteronomy, Moses reviewed all the laws, both great and small--everything from the Ten Commandments down to rules governing relationships between individuals, similar to rulings a judge might make today in a civil case involving a dispute over a contract.

Ironically, while reminding the descendants of Jacob that they were God's chosen people, Moses also chastised them if they were too arrogant to heed the word of God, telling them to remember that they and their forefathers were only slaves back in Egypt.

In Deuteronomy, Moses stopped short of crossing over the Jordan River into the Promised Land. He'd been told by God that this was the end of the road for him, but that his people would cross over and take control of the cities and land, driving out all inhabitants and destroying their images and homes.

Deuteronomy consists of constant reminders of what the Hebrew people went through up to this point, and the sacrifices and hardships of Moses in trying to lead them according to the words of God that were spoken to Moses. It is said that Moses had seen God, but we do not obtain any description in the Bible. (Jesus later reiterated that no one has seen God, but perhaps using the word "see" metaphorically, told disciples that by seeing Him, they also saw God the Father.)

The God described by Moses was a very vindictive and angry God, wanting to destroy any of the Hebrew people who would lose faith. But for those who did have faith in God, their enemies would be destroyed.

By the time of Deuteronomy, people seemed to lack the notion of God as One who would treat all as equal, as long as they kept the faith and prayed. Deuteronomy, being one of the books of Moses, was still very much about solidarity and surviving as a Hebrew nation. In fact once, when people attempted to stand up to Moses and challenge him on the ground that God spoke to every man, not just Moses and his brother Aaron, God destroyed those men as rebels.

Moses reminds his people of this, and all the other great occurrences of the last forty years of travel in search of the Promised Land. Moses spoke to his people in Deuteronomy as if they were his children, telling them even what foods to eat and what not to eat.

The holy days and the sacrifices to be offered for each event were also part of Moses' final teachings to his people. Moses in Deuteronomy reviewed these ceremonies, plus a lot of the civil and criminal laws, and the rules of medicine, laid down previously in Leviticus.

It is strange and wonderful that even 3,000 years ago, these laws are ones with which we are familiar today in many cases. One wonders, however, whether other peoples had the same notions of proper and improper activities by which they should live within their own societies. It may well be that they did, which would make the wholesale slaughter of inhabitants of certain lands seem all the more unjust.

The Bible, however, has survived the test of time. It could be because Christianity was adopted as the official religion of the Roman Empire, or it could be because there was a unique characteristic of faith in the Hebrew people that gave them a strong belief in the importance of rules and laws, especially when Moses told them these rules came straight from God.

The rules and laws reviewed by Moses from earlier books of the Bible, and those laws explained in detail for the first time in Deuteronomy, sound a lot like renditions of cases we might read about in the news, or statutes in our books of federal or state laws. But since those law books of case decisions and statutes can fill a library, Moses couldn't be expected to hit on every conceivable legal issue in the forty or fifty pages of Deuteronomy. But it is remarkable how modern and logical the reasoning of Moses' explanations is. After all, Moses did say these rules came directly from God to him, for dissemination to his people.

Moses closed the Book of Deuteronomy by commanding his people to build monuments on two mountains, warning them strictly to fear God and follow the law, and promising them that people who do keep faith in God will have wonderful good fortune in life (but those who lose faith will have terrible luck, not only for themselves but for their descendants for generations to come).

In the Bible, we often find the reasoning that good and bad character extend beyond the individual into many future generations descending from that individual. This is quite different from our modern view that an individual should not be bound by the acts and deeds of his or her forefathers. But Moses remembered all the twelve children of Jacob, and their individual characteristics. He ascribed these virtues, and sometimes failings, to the descendants of each of Jacob's twelve sons, even four hundred years after Jacob at the time of Deuteronomy. These twelve families were known as the twelve tribes of Israel (Jacob being Israel himself, as nicknamed by God).

Again, this seems so strange to us, when in modern times hardly anyone can trace his or her family tree back four hundred years. But it's quite possible that before the jet age and the era of great international travel, people actually could trace back that far, and continue family loyalties to whichever son of Jacob they had as their forefather.

Moses blessed his people and did what God told him to do at the end of Deuteronomy. Moses climbed the mountain, looked across at the Promised Land, and then died at the age of 120. He was buried in a nearby valley, but the exact location of his grave was unknown when Deuteronomy was put into print.

The Books of Moses close with a statement that since the death of Moses, "there has not arisen in Israel a prophet like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face."

This does not contradict the New Testament, as Jesus Himself cautioned people not to confuse Him with the prophets.

In our day of tolerance for the diversities among human beings, we must respect the greatness of the Hebrew people in preserving the Bible through centuries and persevering not only as a minority religion in the world, but also as a nation that has been dispossessed and reinstated in its land, a territory named after a man called Jacob, who lived 3,500 years ago in an area near the current country that carries his nickname "Israel."

By the way, Deuteronomy means "Second Law" in Greek. See the syllable "deu," similar to what we might find in duet or other words meaning "two" things. It isn't the first time most of the Commandments and laws were given, but rather is a recap of what came before. It is a book written by a man who started the religion of Jesus--Moses.


Jewish Tradition

The laws that most nations follow are what we would call statutes, codes, or common law. Sometimes laws are created by a line of consistent decisions on certain subjects. Similarly, in medicine certain rules are followed and expected to be observed. Lastly, with religious faith there usually is a concept known as God, which people adhere to within their organization. The Jewish tradition has its own rules and practices, similar to any culture of a community of people.

Part of that is the summary of rules and values taught by Moses in conjunction with God, as explained in more detail in Deuteronomy.

Some Jewish people believe that their family of Hebrews was conceived by God even before the Earth was created. It's hard to say what people believe or not because people attend religious services not necessarily based on private beliefs but perhaps for social network purposes.

The Torah of the story of Genesis, Exodus, and the Promised Land is meant to be read publicly by the Jewish people, at least within their own congregation. Torah is just an ancient word that means "teach." The first part of the Bible was known in ancient times as The Torah of Moses.

The first 5 books of the Bible, often called Torah, is central to the teachings of Orthodox Judaism. Not only Jews, but Muslims and Christians also, consider the first 5 books of the Bible to be the Word of God, brought to people through Moses.


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