This new commentary on Deuteronomy is excellent:
The important Old Testament book of Deuteronomy has been well covered by slightly older commentaries, but there have not been many major new critical commentaries by those from a conservative and/or evangelical perspective for a while now. Some of the more recent ones would include:
Daniel Block (NIVAC, 2012)
Edward Woods (TOTC, 2011)
Telford Work (BTCB, 2009)
J. Gordon McConville (AOTC, 2002)
Duane Christensen, 2 vols. (WBC, 1993, 2002)
Chris Wright (NIBC, 1996)
Eugene Merrill (NAC, 1994)
Peter Craigie (NICOT, 1976)
J. A. Thompson (TOTC, 1974)
The first volume by Christensen was revised in a second edition, and his two-volume work comes to a total of 900 pages. Arnold’s commentary (in the NICOT series, replacing Craigie) is 660 pages. With 34 chapters in Deuteronomy, we would expect that two more volumes will be forthcoming, turning this into a 2000-page work when complete.
Bill Arnold is well placed to pen this volume. The Professor of Old Testament Interpretation at Asbury Theological Seminary has written a number of important scholarly works on the Old Testament and its world, and has already done commentaries on Genesis (NCBC, 2008) and 1&2 Samuel (NIVAC, 2003).
Nearly 90 pages of introductory material are offered here, with dozens devoted to authorship, date, occasion and canonicity. He looks at how ancient texts were generally composed, and looks at the history of thought on Deuteronomy, and then says this: “A word of caution is therefore in order when considering the question of Deuteronomy’s origins. We cannot come to dogmatic conclusions about its history of composition.” And he goes on to say this in his section on the book’s theology:
Deuteronomy exhibits such a degree of distinctive language and cohesive theology throughout that it is possible to imagine a single author responsible for the majority of the materials outside of the legal corpus of Deut 12-26 and the poem of Deut 32. If one postulates a single mind behind the majority of the Deuteronomic literature of the Old Testament, that person would be “one of the greatest biblical theologians of all time”.
Some of these great theological themes found in Deuteronomy include revelation, prophecy, covenant, justice and warfare. As to that last one Arnold says:
Deuteronomy exhibits a view of warfare that is challenging for today’s readers, since it represents “arguably the single most morally and theologically problematic aspect of the Old Testament.” Yet we must allow Deuteronomy to be at home in its ancient Near Eastern context, where militarism and warfare were very much part of everyday life. In that context, it was simply inconceivable to imagine a powerful god who was unwilling or incapable of protecting and defending his or her subjects. . . . Thus YHWH is a divine warrior, who fights on behalf of his people Israel (1:30; 20:4; 31:3-8) and cuts off all their enemies (6:19; 7:1-2; 11:23; 12:29; 19:1).
As to assessing the actual commentary portion of the book, what one usually does is go straight to some key passages to see what the commentator has to say. In this case of course we have the Ten Commandments in ch. 5, and the important Shema of Deut. 6:1-3, among others.
Concerning the Sixth Commandment, Arnold, like others, rightly reminds us of the distinction between killing and murder. Thus not all killing is prohibited:
The verb murder (rsh) can denote either premeditated murder or unintentional killing (manslaughter), which, in either case, is “culpable killing by use of force.” More precisely, in its use here in the Decalogue it refers to deliberate and premeditated murder, or any taking of human life, excluding killing in warfare (e.g., Deut 20), capital punishment (e.g., Deut 13:5, 9–10, 15; Lev 20:2, 27), and self-defense (e.g., Exod 22:1-2).
As to the opening verses of ch. 6, they say this:
Now this is the commandment—the statutes and the rules—that the Lord your God commanded me to teach you, that you may do them in the land to which you are going over, to possess it, that you may fear the Lord your God, you and your son and your son’s son, by keeping all his statutes and his commandments, which I command you, all the days of your life, and that your days may be long. Hear therefore, O Israel, and be careful to do them, that it may go well with you, and that you may multiply greatly, as the Lord, the God of your fathers, has promised you, in a land flowing with milk and honey.
Deuteronomy’s presentation of divine instruction has arrived at a momentous juncture. The importance of this pronouncement in the flow of biblical revelation cannot be overstated. The text – known in later tradition simply as the “Shema” (anglicized form of the first Hebrew word, “hear”) – stands as a creedal conviction about God. This is Israel’s unimpeachable expression of their understanding of the essence of YHWH, and gives distinct clarity to the book’s central message: one YHWH, one Torah, one Israel.
Another key section is Deut. 7:7-11 where Yahweh tells Israel it was not because of their greatness or their massive numbers that he chose them. Instead, as he says in verses 6-8:
For you are a people holy to the Lord your God. The Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the Lord set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but it is because the Lord loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers, that the Lord has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt.
I like what Arnold says about this passage:
This text embeds election in the mystery of God’s love, which leaves the recipient of such undeserved love astonished and calls them to respond only with the self-reflective question, “Why me?” Such love is its own justification and is a wondrous good, a value in itself, so that the particularizing logic of election is a natural
corollary to the particularizing logic of love….
The expression of divine love in v. 8 is one of the most profound in the Bible. It so thoroughly grounds Israel’s election in the originary love of God that they could never again imagine they merited or somehow deserved to be redeemed and to serve God. Everything in their story begins, proceeds, and culminates in the first cause of divine love, from which all else springs.
Much more can be said about this important new commentary. And one eagerly awaits the remaining volumes to become available. Other great commentaries of Deuteronomy exist, but this – when complete – will be among the very best.