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Deuteronomy 30:15–20

Deuteronomy 30:15–20 (NASB95)

15“See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, and death and adversity; 16in that I command you today to love the Lord your God, to walk in His ways and to keep His commandments and His statutes and His judgments, that you may live and multiply, and that the Lord your God may bless you in the land where you are entering to possess it. 17But if your heart turns away and you will not obey, but are drawn away and worship other gods and serve them, 18I declare to you today that you shall surely perish. You will not prolong your days in the land where you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess it.

19“I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. So choose life in order that you may live, you and your descendants, 20by loving the Lord your God, by obeying His voice, and by holding fast to Him; for this is your life and the length of your days, that you may live in the land which the Lord swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to give them.”

Moses is almost at the end of his life by the time he’s giving this speech; and as his life is coming to a close, so is the Torah. He brings Israel to a pair of mountains, one representing goodness and life (which is consequently the greener, more lush of the two), and one representing death. On the one representing life, the tribes descended from Leah’s four middle sons, as well as those descended from Rachel are stationed. On the one representing death, those descended from Leah’s first and last born, and those descended from the enslaved women, Zilpah and Bilhah are stationed.

Reasons as to why are speculative, and range from the innocuous: “It’s for the aesthetics”; to the cruel: “God liked these ones better”. I am most persuaded with an explanation tied into the origin story of the tribes. In the narratives about Jacob and his sons in Genesis, Reuben rapes Bilhah, his father’s wife and his aunt’s enslaved maid. At the birth of Leah’s last two sons, she says she’s being repaid her wages for giving her maidservant in concubinage to her husband, and with Zebulun specifically announces her continuing desire to be the Matriarch of a divided house. The enslaved woman have no voice at all in the story; a fact which reflects their utter powerlessness in life. When Abraham and Sarah abused an enslaved woman in this way, God made Abraham go through a restoration process that involved setting the enslaved woman free, and giving her son over to her. Jacob and his wives did the same thing twice.

I think the author is invoking those parts of the narrative here, not as a de facto condemnation of the tribes produced from the bad behavior of the patri