Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, by Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsh, [1857-78], at sacred-texts.com
The annual feasts appointed by the law were to be celebrated, like the sacrificial meals, at the place which the Lord would choose for the revelation of His name; and there Israel was to rejoice before the Lord with the presentation of sacrifices. From this point of view Moses discusses the feasts of Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles, assuming the laws previously given concerning these festivals (Ex 12; Lev 23:1, and Num 28 and 29) as already known, and simply repeating those points which related to the sacrificial meals held at these festivals. This serves to explain the reason why only those three festivals are mentioned, at which Israel had already been commanded to appear before the Lord in Exo 23:14-17, and Exo 34:18, Exo 34:24-25, and not the feast of trumpets or day of atonement: viz., because the people were not required to assemble at the sanctuary out of the whole land on the occasion of these two festivals.
(Note: That the assembling of the people at the central sanctuary is the leading point of view under which the feasts are regarded here, has been already pointed out by Bachmann (die Feste, p. 143), who has called attention to the fact that "the place which Jehovah thy God will choose" occurs six times (Deu 16:2, Deu 16:6, Deu 16:7, Deu 16:11, Deu 16:15, Deu 16:16); and "before the face of Jehovah" three times (Deu 16:11 and Deu 16:16 twice); and that the celebration of the feast at any other place is expressly declared to be null and void. At the same time, he has once more thoroughly exploded the contradictions which are said to exist between this chapter and the earlier festal laws, and which Hupfeld has revived in his comments upon the feasts, without troubling himself to notice the careful discussion of the subject by Hvernick in his Introduction, and Hengstenberg in his Dissertations.)
Israel was to make ready the Passover to the Lord in the earing month (see at Exo 12:2). The precise day is supposed to be known from Ex 12, as in Exo 23:15. פּסח עשׂה (to prepare the Passover), which is used primarily to denote the preparation of the paschal lamb for a festal meal, is employed here in a wider signification viz., "to keep the Passover." At this feast they were to slay sheep and oxen to the Lord for a Passover, at the place, etc. In Deu 16:2, as in Deu 16:1, the word "Passover" is employed in a broader sense, and includes not only the paschal lamb, but the paschal sacrifices generally, which the Rabbins embrace under the common name of chagiga; not the burnt-offerings and sin-offerings, however, prescribed in Num 28:19-26, but all the sacrifices that were slain at the feast of the Passover (i.e., during the seven days of the Mazzoth, which are included under the name of pascha) for the purpose of holding sacrificial meals. This is evident from the expression "of the flock and the herd;" as it was expressly laid down, that only a שׂה, i.e., a yearling animal of the sheep or goats, was to be slain for the paschal meal on the fourteenth of the month in the evening, and an ox was never slaughtered in the place of the lamb. But if any doubt could exist upon this point, it would be completely set aside by Deu 16:3 : "Thou shalt eat no leavened bread with it: seven days shalt thou eat unleavened bread therewith." As the word "therewith" cannot possibly refer to anything else than the "Passover" in Deu 16:2, it is distinctly stated that the slaughtering and eating of the Passover was to last seven days, whereas the Passover lamb was to be slain and consumed in the evening of the fourteenth Abib (Exo 12:10). Moses called the unleavened bread "the bread of affliction," because the Israelites had to leave Egypt in anxious flight (Exo 12:11) and were therefore unable to leaven the dough (Exo 12:39), for the purpose of reminding the congregation of the oppression endured in Egypt, and to stir them up to gratitude towards the Lord their deliverer, that they might remember that day as long as they lived. (On the meaning of the Mazzothy, see at Exo 12:8 and Exo 12:15.) - On account of the importance of the unleavened bread as a symbolical shadowing forth of the significance of the Passover, as the feast of the renewal and sanctification of the life of Israel, Moses repeats in Deu 16:4 two of the points in the law of the feast: first of all the one laid down in Exo 13:7, that no leaven was to be seen in the land during the seven days; and secondly, the one in Exo 23:18 and Exo 34:25, that none of the flesh of the paschal lamb was to be left till the next morning, in order that all corruption might be kept at a distance from the paschal food. Leaven, for example, sets the dough in fermentation, from which putrefaction ensues; and in the East, if flesh is kept, it very quickly decomposes. He then once more fixes the time and place for keeping the Passover (the former according to Exo 12:6 and Lev 23:5, etc.), and adds in Deu 16:7 the express regulation, that not only the slaughtering and sacrificing, but the roasting (see at Exo 12:9) and eating of the paschal lamb were to take place at the sanctuary, and that the next morning they could turn and go back home. This rule contains a new feature, which Moses prescribes with reference to the keeping of the Passover in the land of Canaan, and by which he modifies the instructions for the first Passover in Egypt, to suit the altered circumstances. In Egypt, when Israel was not yet raised into the nation of Jehovah, and had as yet no sanctuary and no common altar, the different houses necessarily served as altars. But when this necessity was at an end, the slaying and eating of the Passover in the different houses were to cease, and they were both to take place at the sanctuary before the Lord, as was the case with the feast of Passover at Sinai (Num 9:1-5). Thus the smearing of the door-posts with the blood was tacitly abolished, since the blood was to be sprinkled upon the altar as sacrificial blood, as it had already been at Sinai. - The expression "to thy tents," for going "home," points to the time when Israel was till dwelling in tents, and had not as yet secured any fixed abodes and houses in Canaan, although this expression was retained at a still later time (e.g., Sa1 13:2; Sa2 19:9, etc.). The going home in the morning after the paschal meal, is not to be understood as signifying a return to their homes in the different towns of the land, but simply, as even Riehm admits, to their homes or lodgings at the place of the sanctuary. How very far Moses was from intending to release the Israelites from the duty of keeping the feast for seven days, is evident from the fact that in Deu 16:8 he once more enforces the observance of the seven days' feast. The two clauses, "six days thou shalt eat mazzoth," and "on the seventh day shall be azereth (Eng. Ver. 'a solemn assembly') to the Lord thy God," are not placed in antithesis to each other, so as to imply (in contradiction to Deu 16:3 and Deu 16:4; Exo 12:18-19; Exo 13:6-7; Lev 23:6; Num 28:17) that the feast of Mazzoth was to last only six days instead of seven; but the seventh day is brought into especial prominence as the azereth of the feast (see at Lev 23:36), simply because, in addition to the eating of mazzoth, there was to be an entire abstinence from work, and this particular feature might easily have fallen into neglect at the close of the feast. But just as the eating of mazzoth for seven days is not abolished by the first clause, so the suspension of work on the first day is not abolished by the second clause, any more than in Exo 13:6 the first day is represented as a working day by the fact that the seventh day is called "a feast to Jehovah."
With regard to the Feast of Weeks (see at Exo 23:16), it is stated that the time for its observance was to be reckoned from the Passover. Seven weeks shall they count "from the beginning of the sickle to the corn," i.e., from the time when the sickle began to be applied to the corn, or from the commencement of the corn-harvest. As the corn-harvest was opened with the presentation of the sheaf of first-fruits on the second day of the Passover, this regulation as to time coincides with the rule laid down in Lev 23:15. "Thou shalt keep the feast to the Lord thy God according to the measure of the free gift of thy hand, which thou givest as Jehovah thy God blesseth thee." The ἁπ. λεγ. מסּת is the standing rendering in the Chaldee for דּי, sufficiency, need; it probably signifies abundance, from מסס = מסה, to flow, to overflow, to derive. The idea is this: Israel was to keep this feast with sacrificial gifts, which every one was able to bring, according to the extent to which the Lord had blessed him, and (Deu 16:11) to rejoice before the Lord at the place where His name dwelt with sacrificial meals, to which the needy were to be invited (cf. Deu 14:29), in remembrance of the fact that they also were bondmen in Egypt (cf. Deu 15:15). The "free-will offering of the hand," which the Israelites were to bring with them to this feast, and with which they were to rejoice before the Lord, belonged to the free-will gifts of burnt-offerings, meat-offerings, drink-offerings, and thank-offerings, which might be offered, according to Num 29:39 (cf. Lev 23:38), at every feast, along with the festal sacrifices enjoined upon the congregation. The latter were binding upon the priests and congregation, and are fully described in Num 28 and 29, so that there was no necessity for Moses to say anything further with reference to them.
In connection with the Feast of Tabernacles also, he simply enforces the observance of it at the central sanctuary, and exhorts the people to rejoice at this festival, and not only to allow their sons and daughters to participate in this joy, but also the man-servant and maid-servant, and the portionless Levites, strangers, widows, and orphans. After what had already been stated, Moses did not consider it necessary to mention expressly that this festal rejoicing was also to be manifested in joyous sacrificial meals; it was enough for him to point to the blessing which God had bestowed upon their cultivation of the corn, the olive, and the vine, and upon all the works of their hands, i.e., upon their labour generally (Deu 16:13-15), as there was nothing further to remark after the instructions which had already been given with reference to this feast also (Lev 23:34-36, Lev 23:39-43; Num 29:12-38).
In conclusion, the law is repeated, that the men were to appear before the Lord three times a year at the three feasts just mentioned (compare Exo 23:17 with Exo 23:14, and Exo 34:23), with the additional clause, "at the place which the Lord shall choose," and the following explanation of the words "not empty:" "every man according to the gift of his hand, according to the blessing of Jehovah his God, which He hath given thee," i.e., with sacrificial gifts, as much as every one could offer, according to the blessing which he had received from God.
Just as in its religious worship the Israelitish nation was to show itself to be the holy nation of Jehovah, so was it in its political relations also. This thought forms the link between the laws already given and those which follow. Civil order - that indispensable condition of the stability and prosperity of nations and states - rests upon a conscientious maintenance of right by means of a well-ordered judicial constitution and an impartial administration of justice. - For the purpose of settling the disputes of the people, Moses had already provided them with judges at Sinai, and had given the judges themselves the necessary instructions for the fulfilment of their duties (Ex 18). This arrangement might suffice as long as the people were united in one camp and had Moses for a leader, who could lay before God any difficult cases that were brought to him, and give an absolute decision with divine authority. But for future times, when Israel would no longer possess a prophet and mediator like Moses, and after the conquest of Canaan would live scattered about in the towns and villages of the whole land, certain modifications and supplementary additions were necessary to adapt this judicial constitution to the altered circumstances of the people. Moses anticipates this want in the following provisions, in which he first of all commands the appointment of judges and officials in every town, and gives certain precise injunctions as to their judicial proceedings (Deut 16:18-17:7); and secondly, appoints a higher judicial court at the place of the sanctuary for the more difficult cases (Deu 17:8-13); and thirdly, gives them a law for the future with reference to the choice of a king (Deu 16:14-20).
Appointment and Instruction of the Judges. - Deu 16:18. "Judges and officers thou shalt appoint thee in all thy gates (place, see at Exo 20:10), which Jehovah thy God shall give thee, according to thy tribes." The nation is addressed as a whole, and directed to appoint for itself judges and officers, i.e., to choose them, and have them appointed by its rulers, just as was done at Sinai, where the people chose the judges, and Moses inducted into office the persons so chosen (cf. Deu 1:12-18). That the same course was to be adopted in future, is evident from the expression, "throughout thy tribes," i.e., according to thy tribes, which points back to Deu 1:13. Election by majorities was unknown to the Mosaic law. The shoterim, officers (lit., writers, see at Exo 5:6), who were associated with the judges, according to Deu 1:15, even under the previous arrangement, were not merely messengers and servants of the courts, but secretaries and advisers of the judges, who derived their title from the fact that they had to draw up and keep the genealogical lists, and who are mentioned as already existing in Egypt as overseers of the people and of their work (see at Exo 5:6; and for the different opinions concerning their official position, see Selden, de Synedriis, i. pp. 342-3). The new features, which Moses introduces here, consist simply in the fact that every place was to have its own judges and officers, whereas hitherto they had only been appointed for the larger and smaller divisions of the nation, according to their genealogical organization. Moses lays down no rule as to the number of judges and shoterim to be appointed in each place, because this would depend upon the number of the inhabitants; and the existing arrangement of judges over tens, hundreds, etc. (Exo 18:21), would still furnish the necessary standard. The statements made by Josephus and the Rabbins with regard to the number of judges in each place are contradictory, or at all events are founded upon the circumstances of much later times (see my Archologie, ii. pp. 257-8). - These judges were to judge the people with just judgment. The admonition in Deu 16:19 corresponds to the instructions in Exo 23:6 and Exo 23:8. "Respect persons:" as in Deu 1:17. To this there is added, in Deu 16:20, an emphatic admonition to strive zealously to maintain justice. The repetition of the word justice is emphatic: justice, and nothing but justice, as in Gen 14:10, etc. But in order to give the people and the judges appointed by them a brief practical admonition, as to the things they were more especially to observe in their administration of justice, Moses notices by way of example a few crimes that were deserving of punishment (Deu 16:21, Deu 16:22, and Deu 17:1), and then proceeds in Deu 17:2-7 to describe more fully the judicial proceedings in the case of idolaters.
"Thou shalt not plant thee as asherah any wood beside the altar of Jehovah." נטע, to plant, used figuratively, to plant up or erect, as in Ecc 12:11; Dan 11:25; cf. Isa 51:16. Asherah, the symbol of Astarte (see at Exo 34:13), cannot mean either a green tree or a grove (as Movers, Relig. der Phnizier, p. 572, supposes), for the simple reason that in other passages we find the words עשׂה, make (Kg1 14:15; Kg1 16:33; Kg2 17:16; Kg2 21:3; Ch2 33:3), or הצּיב, set up (Kg2 17:10), העמיד, stand up (Ch2 33:19), and בּנה, build (Kg1 14:23), used to denote the erection of an asherah, not one of which is at all suitable to a tree or grove. But what is quite decisive is the fact that in Kg1 14:23; Kg2 17:10; Jer 17:2, the asherah is spoken of as being set up under, or by the side of, the green tree. This idol generally consisted of a wooden column; and a favourite place for setting it up was by the side of the altars of Baal.
They were also to abstain from setting up any mazzebah, i.e., any memorial stone, or stone pillar dedicated to Baal (see at Exo 23:24).