Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, by Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsh, [1857-78], at sacred-texts.com
Conclusion of the Covenant in the Land of Moab - Deuteronomy 29-30
The addresses which follow in ch. 29 and 30 are announced in the heading in Deu 29:1 as "words (addresses) of the covenant which Jehovah commanded Moses to make with the children of Israel, beside the covenant which He made with them in Horeb," and consist, according to Deu 29:10., in a solemn appeal to all the people to enter into the covenant which the Lord made with them that day; that is to say, it consisted literally in a renewed declaration of the covenant which the Lord had concluded with the nation at Horeb, or in a fresh obligation imposed upon the nation to keep the covenant which had been concluded at Horeb, by the offering of sacrifices and the sprinkling of the people with the sacrificial blood (Ex 24). There was no necessity for any repetition of this act, because, notwithstanding the frequent transgressions on the part of the nation, it had not been abrogated on the part of God, but still remained in full validity and force. The obligation binding upon the people to fulfil the covenant is introduced by Moses with an appeal to all that the Lord had done for Israel (Deu 29:2-9); and this is followed by a summons to enter into the covenant which the Lord was concluding with the now, that He might be their God, and fulfil His promises concerning them (Deu 29:10-15), with a repeated allusion to the punishment which threatened them in case of apostasy (Deu 29:16-29), and the eventual restoration on the ground of sincere repentance and return to the Lord (Deu 30:1-14), and finally another solemn adjuration, with a blessing and a curse before them, to make choice of the blessing (Deu 30:15-20).
Is not the close of the address in ch. 5-28, as Schultz, Knobel, and others suppose; but the heading to ch. 29-30, which relate to the making of the covenant mentioned in this verse (vid., Deu 29:12, Deu 29:14).
The introduction in Deu 29:2 resembles that in Deu 5:1. "All Israel" is the nation in all its members (see Deu 29:10, Deu 29:11). - Israel had no doubt seen the mighty acts of the Lord in Egypt (Deu 29:2 and Deu 29:3; cf. Deu 4:34; Deu 7:19), but Jehovah had not given them a heart, i.e., understanding, to perceive, eyes to see, and ears to hear, until this day. With this complaint, Moses does not intend to excuse the previous want of susceptibility on the part of the nation to the manifestations of grace on the part of the Lord, but simply to explain the necessity for the repeated allusion to the gracious acts of God, and to urge the people to lay them truly to heart. "By reproving the dulness of the past, he would stimulate them to a desire to understand: just as if he had said, that for a long time they had been insensible to so many miracles, and therefore they ought not to delay any longer, but to arouse themselves to hearken better unto God" (Calvin). The Lord had not yet given the people an understanding heart, because the people had not yet asked for it, simply because the need of it was not felt (cf. Deu 4:26).
With the appeal to the gracious guidance of Israel by God through the desert, the address of Moses passes imperceptibly into an address from the Lord, just as in Deu 11:14. (On Deu 29:5, Deu 29:6, vid., Deu 8:3-4; on Deu 29:7, vid., Deu 2:26., and Deu 3:1. and Deu 3:12.).
These benefits from the Lord demanded obedience and fidelity. "Keep the words of this covenant," etc. (cf. Deu 8:18). השׂכּיל, to act wisely (as in Deu 32:29), bearing in mind, however, that Jehovah Himself is the wisdom of Israel (Deu 4:6), and the search for this wisdom brings prosperity and salvation (cf. Jos 1:7-8).
Summons to enter into the covenant of the Lord, namely, to enter inwardly, to make the covenant an affair of the heart and life.
"To-day," when the covenant-law and covenant-right were laid before them, the whole nation stood before the Lord without a single exception - the heads and the tribes, the elders and the officers, all the men of Israel. The two members are parallel. The heads of the people are the elders and officers, and the tribes consist of all the men. The rendering given by the lxx and Syriac (also in the English version: Tr.), "heads (captains) of your tribes," is at variance with the language.
The covenant of the Lord embraced, however, not only the men of Israel, but also the wives and children, and the stranger who had attached himself to Israel, such as the Egyptians who came out with Israel (Exo 12:38; Num 11:4), and the Midianites who joined the Israelites with Hobab (Num 10:29), down to the very lowest servant, "from thy hewer of wood to thy drawer of water" (cf. Jos 9:21, Jos 9:27).
"That thou shouldest enter into the covenant of the Lord thy God, and the engagement on oath, which the Lord thy God concludeth with thee to-day." עבר with בּ, as in Job 33:28, "to enter into," expresses entire entrance, which goes completely through the territory entered, and is more emphatic than בברית בּוא (Ch2 15:12). "Into the oath:" the covenant confirmed with an oath, covenants being always accompanied with oaths (vid., Gen 26:28).
"That He may set thee up (exalt thee) to-day into a people for Himself, and that He may be (become) unto thee a God" (vid., Deu 28:9; Deu 27:9; Exo 19:5-6).
This covenant Moses made not only with those who are present, but with all whether present or not; for it was to embrace not only those who were living then, but their descendants also, to become a covenant of blessing for all nations (cf. Act 2:39, and the intercession of Christ in Joh 17:20).
The summons to enter into the covenant of the Lord is explained by Moses first of all by an exposition of the evil results which would follow from apostasy from the Lord, or the breach of His covenant. This exposition he introduces with an allusion to the experience of the people with reference to the worthlessness of idols, both in Egypt itself, and upon their march through the nations, whose territory they passed through (Deu 29:16, Deu 29:17). The words, "for ye have learned how we dwelt in Egypt, and passed through the nations...and have seen their abominations and their idols" (gillulim: lit., clods, see Lev 26:30), have this signification: In our abode in Egypt, and upon our march through different lands, ye have become acquainted with the idols of these nations, that they are not gods, but only wood and stone (see at Deu 4:28), silver and gold. את־אשׁר, as in Deu 9:7, literally "ye know that which we dwelt,' i.e., know what our dwelling there showed, what experience we gained there of the nature of heathen idols.
"That there may not be among you," etc.: this sentence may be easily explained by introducing a thought which may be easily supplied, such as "consider this," or "do not forget what ye have seen, that no one, either man or woman, family or tribe, may turn away from Jehovah our God." - "That there may not be a root among you which bears poison and wormwood as fruit." A striking image of the destructive fruit borne by idolatry (cf. Heb 12:15). Rosh stands for a plant of a very bitter taste, as we may see from the frequency with which it is combined with לענה, wormwood: it is not, strictly speaking, a poisonous plant, although the word is used in Job 20:16 to denote the poison of serpents, because, in the estimation of a Hebrew, bitterness and poison were kindred terms. There is no other passage in which it can be shown to have the meaning "poison." The sense of the figure is given in plain terms in Deu 29:19, "that no one when he hears the words of this oath may bless himself in his heart, saying, I will prosper with me, for I walk in the firmness of my heart." To bless himself in his heart is to congratulate himself. שׁרירוּת, firmness, a vox media; in Syriac, firmness, in a good sense, equivalent to truth; in Hebrew, generally in a bad sense, denoting hardness of heart; and this is the sense in which Moses uses it here. - "To sweep away that which is saturated with the thirsty:" a proverbial expression, of which very different interpretations have been given (see Rosenmller ad h. l.), taken no doubt from the land and transferred to persons or souls; so that we might supply Nephesh in this sense, "to destroy all, both those who have drunk its poison, and those also who are still thirsting for it" (Knobel). But even if we were to supply ארץ (the land), we should not have to think of the land itself, but simply of its inhabitants, so that the thought would still remain the same.
"For the Lord will not forgive him (who thinks or speaks in this way); but then will His anger smoke (break forth in fire; vid., (Psa 74:1), and His jealousy against that man, and the whole curse of the law will lie upon him, that his name may be blotted out under heaven (vid., Deu 25:19; Exo 17:14). "The Lord will separate him unto evil from all the tribes, - so that he will be shut out from the covenant nation, and from its salvation, and be exposed to destruction - according to all the curses of the covenant." Although the pronominal suffix refers primarily to the man, it also applies, according to Deu 29:18, to the woman, the family, and the tribe. "That is written," etc., as in Deu 28:58, Deu 28:61.
How thoroughly Moses was filled with the thought, that not only individuals, but whole families, and in fact the greater portion of the nation, would fall into idolatry, is evident from the further expansion of the threat which follows, and in which he foresees in the Spirit, and foretells, the extermination of whole families, and the devastation of the land by distant nations; as in Lev 26:31-32. Future generations of Israel, and the stranger from a distant land, when they saw the strokes of the Lord which burst upon the land, and the utter desolation of the land, would ask whence this devastation, and receive the reply, The Lord had smitten the land thus in His anger, because its inhabitants (the Israelites) had forsaken His covenant. With regard to the construction, observe that ואמר, in Deu 29:22, is resumed in ואמרוּ, in Deu 29:24, the subject of Deu 29:22 being expanded into the general notion, "all nations" (Deu 29:24). With וראוּ, in Deu 29:22, a parenthetical clause is inserted, giving the reason for the main thought, in the form of a circumstantial clause; and to this there is attached, by a loose apposition in Deu 29:23, a still further picture of the divine strokes according to their effect upon the land. The nouns in Deu 29:23, "brimstone and salt burning," are in apposition to the strokes (plagues), and so far depend upon "they see." The description is borrowed from the character of the Dead Sea and its vicinity, to which there is an express allusion in the words, "like the overthrow of Sodom," etc., i.e., of the towns of the vale of Siddim (see at Gen 14:2), which resembled paradise, the garden of Jehovah, before their destruction (vid., Gen 13:10 and Gen 19:24.).
"What is this great burning of wrath?" i.e., what does it mean - whence does it come? The reply to such a question would be (Deu 29:25-29): The inhabitants of the land have forsaken the covenant of the Lord, the God of their fathers; therefore has the wrath of the Lord burned over the land.
"Gods which God had not assigned them" (vid., Deu 4:19). "All the curses," etc., are the curses contained in Deut 28:15-68; Lev 26:14-38. - Those who give the answer close their address in Deu 29:29 with an expression of pious submission and solemn admonition. "That which is hidden belongs to the Lord our God (is His affair), and that which is revealed belongs to us and our children for ever, to do (that we may do) all the words of this law." That which is revealed includes the law with its promises and threats; consequently that which is hidden can only refer to the mode in which God will carry out in the future His counsel and will, which He has revealed in the law, and complete His work of salvation notwithstanding the apostasy of the people.
(Note: What the puncta extraordinaria above (ע)ד וּלבנינוּ לנוּ mean, is uncertain. Hiller's conjecture is the most probable, "that they are intended to indicate a various reading, formed by the omission of eleven consonants, and the transposition of the rest עולם והנגדלות (at magnalia saeculi sunt);" whereas there is no foundation for Lightfoot's notion, that "they served as a warning, that we should not wish to pry with curiosity into the secret things of God, but should be content with His revealed will," - a notion which rests upon the supposition that the points are inspired.)