The festivals, as described in this chapter, aren’t a great deal different from those enumerated in previous books. This is, if anything, an expansion of Ex. 23:14-17, where it says that three times a year, all men must “appear before the LORD God” (v 17). Which in Deuteronomy, of course, means going to “the place that he will choose” (v 6, 11, 16). Rather than being performed at a tabernacle, or at a local gathering, these three feasts become pilgrimages to the temple. At passover, Shavuot (“the festival of weeks,” called a harvest festival in other places), and Sukkot (“the festival of booths”), all men have to make the journey to the temple to perform their offerings.
But since Deuteronomy also declares that you have to celebrate these feasts with “your sons and your daughters, your male and female slaves, the Levites residents in your town, as well as the stranger, the orphans, and the widows” (v 11), does this mean that everyone has to travel to Jerusalem? Did the land of Israel empty itself three times a year? Or is this part of the command a remnant of when the celebrations were held more locally?
Now, if you believe that these commands were given, verbatim, by Moses, then Moses is asking people who lived in the far north of Israel to (eventually) travel to Jerusalem three times a year, a journey of about a week one-way. But if you believe this was written much later, an alteration in an earlier tradition after the temple was built, then the author could be thinking just of the southern kingdom of Judah, where most people lived only a day or two away from Jerusalem – much more manageable.
Though actually, the schism in Israel is said to have taken place after Solomon built the temple. So perhaps the fact that the temple was built way in the south, in an area that favored the tribe of Judah and was a huge burden to anyone in the north who wanted to make a pilgrimage, helped encourage the northerners to want to split off and make their own, more local temple. Yet another thing to be thinking about as I continue reading.
There’s a brief reminder to not take bribes. “You must not accept bribes, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and subverts the cause of those who are in the right.” (v 19) I feel like if I’m ever going to protest Super PACs and the undue influence of money in American politics I should just write that on a card and wave it in the faces of my representatives.
The chapter ends awkwardly, because it’s clearly beginning a new passage on forbidden forms of worship and is more connected to the things that come after than before. I’ll talk about those final verses in the next chapter. But I don’t they’re entirely disconnected. After all, Deuteronomy is here adjusting the festivals to center them at the temple, and that is tied to a rejections of the more localized, syncretic practices that seem to have been common among the Israelites.
The Japanese: shougai “lifetime” (v 3), shuukaku “crop, harvest, yield” (v 10), uchiba “threshing floor,” sunda “finished, done” (v 13), yugameru “to twist, to distort” (v 19), tsuikyuu suru “to search after, to pursue” (v 20), sueru “to place, to set” (v 21).