The NCT is closer to the Masoretic (Medieval Jewish) text here, opening with “Moses went and spoke” rather than “When Moses had finished speaking,” which is from the Dead Sea Scrolls. The latter makes sense within the narrative flow – he just finished speaking and is already in front of the people – but the former supports the idea that Deuteronomy is a compilation piece.
Since this is, then, a new start, let’s disconnect this chapter from what’s come before. I would argue it does have a different tone.
For starters, the God of this chapter isn’t setting up a “life or death, blessing or curse” choice for the people to make. Instead, this God is thoroughly omniscient. “I know what they are inclined to do even now, before I have brought them into the land that I promised them on oath” (v 21). The passage this comes from is entirely in the future tense. The Israelites will do everything. God knows it as of right now. They may make a choice, but that choice has been predetermined.
So if God knows ahead of time, how does he justify punishing them? Here again it’s different, because rather than actively smiting God, he hides his face from them. It’s not clear what that means exactly, but it seems to mean removing a certain veil of protection. With his face hidden, “they will become easy prey, and many terrible troubles will come upon them” (v 17). In other words, it’s only their relationship with God that’s keeping the other nations around them from consuming them. If they end that relationship, then they go back to being a small, weak nation among large, strong ones. In other, other words, this is the “natural consequences” theodicy that I tend to prefer – God is not actively punishing anyone, he is just letting cause-and-effect play out.
Is there anything God could do to prevent this from happening in the first place? If he knows it will happen, can’t he stop it from happening? If he can’t, what’s preventing him? The Bible, as is often the case, doesn’t say.
What it does say, and what I find the most fascinating about this chapter, is that the Song of Moses in the next two chapters is meant to be a comfort and a symbol of hope for people when they’ve gone astray. Knowing that they will stray, God has set up a means for them to come back. It’s not a checklist of laws to follow or penances to pay, but rather a narrative poem reminding them of what God has done for them.
Reading ahead a little, the song itself is going to be an interesting read, as it’s got strong poetic imagery, shifting POVs, shifting moods in God. It also seems to vacillate between the natural-consequences and divine-punishment models, which is always oh so fun (sarcasm) to analyze.
The Japanese: ooshii “brave, courageous,” mihanasu “to give up on” (v 6), fusai menjo “debt remission” (v 10), hai suru “to bow down, to worship” (v 11), anadoru “to make light of, to hold in contempt” (v 20), hakaru “to plan, to aim for” (v 22), amasu tokoro naku “thoroughly, exhaustively” (v 24), naosara “all the more” (v 27), soreru “to stray,” furikakaru “to happen, to befall” (v 29).
Don’t you love it when sexism is encoded in a language? In the word for brave, ooshii, those two “o”s are the character for “male.” So in other words, to be brave is to be doubly-masculine.