Book of Deuteronomy
Farewell to Moses
By Moses, shepherd of God’s people
Deuteronomy has traditionally been attributed to Moses. As a unit, the books of Moses are the foundation of the Scriptures. They lay out the details of God’s early encounters with His people as He calls, instructs, and commissions them to extend His blessings to the world.
Along the way, God selects a remarkable man named Moses to be His servant; he challenges Pharaoh, rescues the Hebrew slaves, and becomes the mediator of God’s covenant with Israel.
The books of Moses record some of the high and low points of the prophet’s life, and Deuteronomy—the final chapter in Moses’ biography—contains his last words to the children of those he liberated from Egypt.
The Updating of GOD’s Law
The title, understanding book “Deuteronomy” means “second law,” but it does not refer to an additional law God gives to Israel. It is best understood as a second version of the law God established with Israel at Sinai (17:18).
Moses is updating God’s law for a new generation facing new challenges as they enter a new land. This new generation watched as their parents, with a weak faith and a grumbling spirit, slowly died in the desert. Now it is their turn to see if they can remain true and faithful to their God who has been true and faithful to them.
So they stand on the plains of Moab and listen as Moses reminds them of who they are, where they have come from, and what God requires of them. At the heart of Moses’ three farewell addresses is the prophet’s call for God’s people to love Him with all their heart, soul, and strength, and to teach their children to do the same (6:5–8).
When asked, Jesus calls this the greatest commandment (Matthew 22:34–40). Many of the stipulations referred to in this updated version of the law demonstrate what the love of God looks like in matters of business, family, justice, property, and war. Covenant life is not to be motivated by fear but by love.
A Renewed Covenant Treaty, A New Leader
The Bible book Deuteronomy has a distinctive literary shape that reflects the social and political world in which it was written. Its structure is comparable to Hittite treaties of the second millennium B.C. and Assyrian treaties of the eighth century B.C. Treaties like these established relationships between rulers and their subjects, and they laid out expectations for the future.
The Book of Deuteronomy follows this form, because the Lord is renewing His covenant treaty with a new generation of Israelites, accepting them as His servants and chosen people.
The book ends with an account of Moses’ death and burial on Mount Nebo and a touching tribute to his greatness. This is a result of the Book Deuteronomy explained. Before he dies, Moses commissions Joshua to succeed him; now it is his turn to lead.
Moses now explains to the current generation of Israelites what the Lord has done for them, so the Israelites can confidently give their full allegiance to this One God, who has already proven Himself as their protector and guide.
Even today it’s helpful for us to remember God’s faithfulness to earlier generations in our own families and nations. Our confidence in God is strengthened most when we recall how He has worked directly in our own lives to protect, provide for, and guide us.
The Bible study book Deuteronomy, even as it follows a covenant-treaty form, has almost a cinematic quality to it. Much of the action takes place in flashbacks as Moses recalls events and describes them to the Israelites in a drama. As we’ve been seeing in this opening historical section of the book, sometimes there are even layers of voices.
- At one point, Moses speaks in the voice of the people as they speak in the voice of the spies.
- Shortly we’ll see Moses speaking in the voice of the Lord as He speaks in Moses’ own voice!
- It begins by showing a storyteller and then shifts locations repeatedly in space and time to depict the various episodes he’s describing, with his voice providing continuity throughout.
Deuteronomy has a timeless, ancient-modern feel because the story of God’s work on earth really is written and told by people as they struggle, with varying degrees of success, to understand God’s purposes and to join with those people of God who have gone before us.
Episodes like the one described in 2:34-35, in which entire populations are wiped out, are among the most deeply troubling parts of the Bible. Particularly when this is done under the leadership of people appointed by God, or even on God’s direct instructions, many serious questions are raised.
How is this consistent with God’s mercy?
Interpreters have taken different approaches to try to account for episodes like these, but many problems still remain.
Perhaps the best that can be done is to acknowledge that the Bible presents us with a mixture of materials. Mostly God’s mercy, kindness, and forgiveness are stressed; but sometimes we do see judgments of God, whether through natural forces such as flood and fire, or through human armies, carried out against entire populations.
Which of these attributes, mercy or justice, most essentially characterizes God?
Which passages should we consider normative for our own guidance today, and which ones should we see as exceptional and interpret in light of the others?
Discerning why and how these exceptional circumstances arose remains a matter for thoughtful students of the Bible to reflect on with reverence and concern.
The conquered Ammonite land on the eastern side is given to Reuben, Gad, and half of Manasseh. But this allocation does not occur until these tribes help their brothers conquer the land on the western side of the Jordan.
The Lord answers so many of Moses’ other prayers, so why can’t forgiveness and pardon be extended to Moses now?
Why is this man of God banned from entering the promised land?
At a time when the people need water in the desert ( Numbers 20:2–13 ), even though in their lack of faith they complain bitterly, the Lord mercifully decides to provide water for them. He chooses to give them a miracle through Moses, who is supposed to command a rock (only verbally) to bring forth water.
But Moses is enraged with the people. First he castigates them for being “rebels” and then strikes the rock twice with his staff. This act of disobedience will keep Moses from entering the promised land, and in this case, no appeal is possible.
The Lord chooses Israel from among all the nations to be His own people; but that choice, paradoxically, is for the sake of all the other nations too. Israel is supposed to create a model society, following His laws, and this is supposed to attract other nations to true faith in Him.
Most of the Old Testament describes how the Lord is at work in close relationship with one nation. But it also provides continual glimpses, like this one, of the way that relationship is designed to be a vehicle to reach all nations. The “law” is a complex legal code designed to build a new society out of former desert wanderers.
Establishing these cities of refuge for those who will be living on the east side of the Jordan is the last thing Moses needs to do before sending the people across the river to conquer the rest of the promised land.
But they will keep living in that land only if they remain faithful to their covenant with the Lord. So as Moses continues to represent Him, he now describes the people’s obligations to the Eternal, beginning with exclusive loyalty and obedience to the one True God.
Moses deals with God directly because the people are simply too terrified of the Lord! These well-known Ten Directives or Commandments teach broad principles for godly life and relationships by presenting specific rules meant to be applied more widely, through thoughtful reflection. There are ten because this is the “human” number in the Bible — people ordinarily have ten fingers and ten toes.
But our moral reflection is not supposed to be limited only to the ten areas considered here. The same principles of right relationship illustrated in these areas can be carried into all other areas of human life. The genius of the instruction here is that it’s brief enough to be carved on a stone tablet a person can carry or to be remembered when looking at one’s fingers or toes, but it has implications that are limitless.
The phrase “a land flowing with milk and honey” is certainly metaphorical. Moses doesn’t mean that the rivers and streams of the promised land literally flow with milk and honey rather than with water. But he does want the people to have such a picture in their minds. He wants them to know they will be leaving behind the nomadic, foraging existence they have known in the wilderness.
They will settle in a new land where their cattle will be well fed and will be able to provide them with milk in abundance. They will have the freedom to pursue even more discretionary activities since date honey would seep out of the trees without needing cultivating. God’s promise isn’t just that they will possess the land but that they will find rest, abundance, and health in it.
Massah is a bittersweet memory for the Israelites. The people have complained and grumbled against the Eternal and actually prefer Egyptian bondage or even death to following God in the desert, but the Lord shows up and brings water out of rocks!
One of the most important ways faith is communicated is from parent to child. Most people who do find a lifelong faith come into it by the time they are young adults, and the most significant influence on them is what they’ve seen modeled at home. Stories and experiences are a compelling influence on the faith of children. The first stage in building this sense of covenant loyalty to God was to eliminate every trace of pagan worship from the land.
None of the Canaanites’ existing religious fixtures could be used for worship. The altars other nations used to offer their sacrifices were dedicated explicitly to other gods, like Baal and Asherah, through their distinctive designs and decorations. The True God could not be represented in the shape of any created thing since He is the creator of everything!
Throughout the Bible, God challenges His people to make sure the poor and needy are well cared for. Grinding poverty and deprivation destroy the wholeness of life that God intends for all people. However, as Moses warns here, achieving prosperity can lead people to be complacent and self-sufficient and to forget that God has been the One who has provided for them.
Perhaps no warning is more urgently needed for God’s people in our own wealthy and comfortable society. Prosperity can tempt us to forget about God and to act as if we can take care of everything through our own means.
But with prosperity often comes poverty. These humbling, testing experiences are meant to build the qualities of gratitude and trust into our lives, and they keep us from forgetting God even when we do enjoy prosperity.
This young bull is made in imitation of the Canaanite fertility gods. The bull is a prominent symbol of Baal.
Creating this idol requires a long, intentional process of collecting enough precious metal for a statue, melting it down and purifying it, pouring it into a mold that also has to be designed and crafted, and making sure the statue cools evenly so that it doesn’t break apart. (Perhaps the Israelites learned these crafts by observation or practice in Egypt.) This was no casual slip into an unintentional religious compromise.
This is a deliberate embrace of a god other than the Lord, right at the moment when He is drawing up His covenant of love with Israel. They are as unfaithful to the Lord as a person who has an affair while on his honeymoon!
When they make and worship the young bull idol, the people are breaking the first covenant at Horeb, the one the Lord makes with them when He speaks to them from inside the fire and gives them the Ten Directives. Moses signifies that this first covenant is null and void when he smashes the two stone tablets that are the official copies of the covenant terms.
That covenant has been conditional on the people maintaining an exclusive allegiance to the Lord, and they have violated this essential requirement. Now, however, through the intercession of Moses, the people are accepted into a second, new covenant on the basis of His forgiveness and mercy.
Its continuation is also conditional on their obedience, but its deepest foundation is a grace anticipating the new covenant God ultimately makes with us through Jesus.
Eventually people begin to take these instructions literally. They put abbreviated reminders of the law called mezuzot — scrolls of parchment inscribed with a prayer rolled into a decorative case — on their doorposts.
They even wear tefillin — small leather boxes containing the same prayer — on their arms and foreheads with straps. Any discipline that reminds us effectively to live as God intends is helpful.
But Moses’ goal here is not to create new rituals. It is to encourage God’s people to be intentional about learning and remembering God’s ways.
The ancient treaty form, which is similar to what is found in Deuteronomy, always includes blessings for keeping the agreement (covenant) and curses for breaking it.
Calling these out is a crucial part of the process of adopting the covenant ( chapters 27–28 ). Moses makes a preliminary mention of the blessings-and-curses ceremony. It’s not an absolute rule that those who obey God will directly receive blessings in this life, and that those who disobey will suffer immediate consequences as a result. However, this is still generally true.
His people should obey simply because the Lord is entitled to their unswerving loyalty and devotion (not because of any promised rewards). God delights to reward obedience, and His people should embrace His generosity gratefully whenever they receive it.
Commanding heights are recognized as positions of power and advantage. They are also closer to the sky on mountains and hills, which are thought to be the home of the gods. Nations chose heights and hilltops as places of worship.
Leafy trees are also a favored location because of the shelter and shade they provided in a hot climate, and because they reach all realms of creation — the underworld, the physical world, and the heavens. In the absence of trees, carved poles serve as portable tree shrines honoring the goddess Asherah.
The people are required to make certain offerings and are invited to make others. All of these offerings are to be handled with special care and not treated as ordinary food. Here Moses is warning specifically against pagan magical practice.
It is believed by them that the life force, qualities, and powers of an animal can be taken over by consuming its blood, particularly as it flows from its body.
The pagan nations look for power within the created order, and they try to tap into that power through fertility rites and other magical acts. All the blessings of life, fertility, and abundance are to be found in obedient relationship to the Lord. They can’t be obtained by trying to manipulate the forces of the natural world.
Stoning has been chosen as the method of execution in these cases for several likely reasons: (1) The person who advocates worshiping other gods is like a contagious disease in the midst of Israel. Stoning, killing from a distance, expresses a horror of even touching such a person, for fear of being infected; (2) Stoning is also a community method of execution.
Each and every person in the community has to express one’s own loyalty to the Lord and rejection of other gods by participating in this elimination of false worship; (3) Anyone who accuses a person falsely would incur blood guilt when throwing the first stone of the execution. This would have been a deterrent against false testimony.
Behind these dietary restrictions there’s a moral ideal. The people are being told to set up their community life exactly as the Lord instructs, so that all the other nations will take notice and acknowledge Him ( 4:6 ). To do this, they must recognize their own special place in the world, stick to their own proper realms, and not deviate from the way they should live within it.
This is another way the people are to express their exclusive loyalty to the Lord. In other words, the sacrificial food for God encompasses the daily food for the people. And the Israelites can only eat animals, birds, and insects that exemplify and support life and do not have characteristics and locomotive ability that blur them between these three habitations of land, sea, and sky.
There are a number of celebrations found in the Hebrew Scriptures, but only three great feasts are part of the Mosaic law. They retell the story of their covenant relationship with the Lord and provide occasions to share generously with those in need.
They give the people the opportunity to acknowledge publicly that He is the source of their abundance, so they won’t be tempted to think they’ve prospered on their own and forget Him.
Each of the three great celebrations are reminders of the servitude in Egypt.
- Passover, followed by the week of unleavened bread, is a reminder of God redeeming His people from Egypt and falls within March or April each year.
- The Feast of Weeks, known as Pentecost to Christians, is 50 days after firstfruits or the beginning of the barley harvest and comes in May or June. They are told to remember that they were once slaves in Egypt.
- The last of the great celebrations, the Feast of Shelters, comes in September or October. It is a reminder of the provision of God when the nation lived in temporary shelters while wandering in the wilderness.
This next group of laws describes the rights and responsibilities of community leaders in Israel: the judges who will settle disputes, a king who may be chosen to rule the nation, the Levites who will serve at the central sanctuary, and the prophets who will bring the Lord’s word to the people. All of these offices create a balance of power in Israel.
Having a king is part of God’s plan for Israel. This king is supposed to be someone who depends faithfully on the Lord, not on wealth or power, and who would study God’s laws and follow them. A king like that will be a blessing to everyone in the country.
But when the people ask for this king around 1000 B.C., their motives are wrong. They want to depend on this king instead of on God ( 1 Samuel 8:7 ). In the years that follow, many ungodly kings bring trouble to the nation and oppress the people. Their political maneuvering and policies of appeasement even lead them to set up altars to foreign gods.
The people are ultimately punished for deserting the Lord by being taken into exile away from the promised land.
This is a special arrangement between God and the Levites; He’ll provide for them and give them their distinct identity so they can focus on serving Him instead of serving their families.
The pagan nations around them share the belief that absolute immanent power comes from within creation. They engage in many activities designed to tap into that power so that they can gain knowledge of the future or have influence over others. “Drawing lots” is often done by writing possibilities on pottery shards, putting them in a bag, and then drawing out an answer.
Other ways of trying to predict the future or choose the best course include watching the shapes of clouds or listening for natural omens such as bird cries. It is commonly believed that spirits and the dead can also provide guidance and special information.
Whatever specific practices are being described here, however, the general principle is once again that the people should trust the Lord, transcendent above creation, as their source of guidance and protection.
The next group of laws in Deuteronomy is concerned with making sure people in Israel treat one another honestly and fairly. Safeguards are to be put in place to protect the lives and property of the innocent and to make sure the guilty are caught and punished.
These will include the cities of refuge, property markers, and the court system. Each law in this group seeks specifically to prevent people from abusing or manipulating one these safeguards.
Israelite teachers and scribes are fond of organizing material using mnemonic devices. If two writings share a key word, phrase, or idea, it is considered clever and attractive to put them next to one another. This principle is applied often as the first law in Deuteronomy 21:1 begins by using some Hebrew words similar to those at the end of the last law in the previous group.
Even though the second law in 21:10 is really about marriage, it begins, “When you go to battle against your enemies,” transitioning from the warfare laws. The third law follows because it starts by talking about marriage, even though it’s really about the inheritance rights of sons.
And the next law also talks about sons — except that they’re so disobedient, they need to be executed. So the final law in the group is about executions. These language techniques are intended to help the Israelites memorize the laws.
The Hebrew practice of kipper is when one party makes a gift to another in order to reestablish a good relationship between two parties and remove blood guilt. The emphasis is not so much on the gift itself (although it should be a worthy one), but on the first party’s desire for reconciliation.
When the kipper is a sacrificial animal resolving an offense that would otherwise be settled according to the principle of “a life for a life,” the death of the animal is a substitution for what should have been the death of the murderer.
This situation helps Christians understand what the sacrificial system provides for Israel before the Lord and what Jesus does for us on the cross. His death is a substitutionary sacrifice, but it is also a kipper, a gift that reestablishes our relationship with God.
The next group of laws deals generally with the theme of property: what to do with livestock (whether it’s yours or someone else’s), what kind of clothes to make and wear, how to build a house, how to grow crops. But this theme is defined so broadly to embrace all these laws that they are likely also gathered together by the same mnemonic principle as the previous group.
Whether it be home construction, dietary practices and food preparation, or farming and livestock, Israelite customs should reflect the correct order and division of humans, animals, and plants. Further, all practice should encourage life, and not death.
The laws in the next group all address cases where sexual relations may have taken place outside of lawful marriage. This is considered not just immoral but also a threat to a foundational institution of Israelite society — the family. Sexual indiscretion is therefore punished with execution, in order to remove the threat from the midst of the community.
In a context where a rival pagan value system exerts a constant push away from the pattern of life God outlined, such bold consequences are necessary to keep the nation on track while forming this new type of society.
The next group of laws describes certain people who may not come into the holy place to worship the Lord. This is the defining right of a member in good standing of the community, so the people described here are, in effect, being excluded from community membership itself. The reasons for exclusion reflect Deuteronomy’s ongoing concerns: rejecting pagan practices, upholding lawful marriage, maintaining wholeness and purity, and showing compassion to those in need.
These ordinances seem unduly harsh, but two ideas are at play. First, Lot’s sexual relations with his daughters bring forth the Ammonite and Moabite peoples, so this command is a commentary reflecting on that event. Second, these restrictions are only temporary.
God requires a ritually pure and completely devoted people (both internal and external) in order to bring forth the “messianic seed of woman.” One day the physically maimed and social outcasts will be fully integrated into the people of God. Although Isaiah 56:3–5 models this expectation, Jesus makes it a reality.
The law in verses 9-14 is loosely connected with those in the preceding group by the theme of someone being excluded from a community that is defined by the Eternal One’s presence. In this case, however, both the exclusion and the community are temporary.
The concern for “decency” in this law doesn’t relate to moral or immoral acts, but rather to personal bodily functions that should be kept private and discrete. Otherwise, they expose too much of the person to community view. They’re described literally as a form of “nakedness.” In this context, being “unclean” means needing to deal with a private matter before being able to reengage the community.
An essential principle in the Old Testament is that what is unclean must never come into contact with what is holy. The Eternal One’s presence is supremely holy, thus the concern for decency in the camp where the Eternal One travels with the army.
As the Israelites are traveling through the wilderness, the prophetess Miriam, Moses’ sister, is struck with an infectious skin disease for questioning her brother’s authority as the Lord’s representative ( Numbers 12:1–15 ). Moses prays for her, and she is healed after a week.
The allusion to this event seems intended to stress that God has complete power over diseases that cause impurity — both to strike people and to heal them — and that the Israelites therefore need to respect the authority of the Lord’s representatives, the priests, as they treat cases.
The widow and any children she has by her second husband, by custom, lose their share in his property. When a widow and her children become the family of her brother-in-law, this is a Levirate marriage.
The Old Testament places a very high value on plans being brought to fruition. “Futility curses,” in which plans fail to reach fruition, are among the worst imagined in the ancient world.
To prevent futility from happening, men are exempt from military service if they have not yet married their fiancées, if they have not enjoyed the fruit of a vineyard they have planted, or if they have not lived in a house they have built. Plans reaching fruition are cause for formal celebration and public acknowledgment of the Lord’s help.
The fulfillment of His promise to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob takes tangible form in the first crops from the new land, and this fulfillment calls for a ceremony of celebration and acknowledgment by each Israelite.
This major section of the book closes with a declaration that a covenant has now officially been made between the Lord and the current generation in Israel.
Now the covenant has to be ratified and enforced. Ancient treaties that great kings made with their subjects included a “document clause” that specified what each party would do with its own copy of the treaty. These copies were kept in prominent places, typically in the temples of the gods the kings worshiped.
In the case of the covenant between God and Israel, the stone tablets are to stay inside the Lord’s covenant chest at Israel’s central place of worship. In addition, Moses specifies that a copy of the entire treaty must be written on giant stones and put on top of a mountain in the middle of Israel’s new territory.
Ancient treaties included a list of blessings and curses. Ordinarily each party would call upon their own gods and ask for particular blessings for keeping the treaty or for particular curses if they broke it. In this treaty, however, the blessings and curses are spoken only to the people of Israel. It’s not necessary to pronounce any blessing or curses on the Lord because there’s no danger He’ll forget or break any of His agreements!
Moses now recites the blessings that will come to the people if they keep their covenant with the Lord and the curses they’ll experience if they don’t. By making these a part of the treaty itself, Moses is calling on God to use them to enforce the covenant.
The blessings are listed first. This reflects God’s primary intention toward us: to bless and not to curse. When the Lord reveals His glory and character to Moses ( Exodus 34:6–7 ), He declares at length that He’s a God of love, mercy, grace, and forgiveness, and only then adds that He will never allow injustice.
Moses must now invoke the curses that will come upon the people if they break their covenant with the Lord and worship other gods. He begins with a series of general curses that reverse the general blessings that have just been promised for obedience and faithfulness.
But the curses quickly become very specific, predicting that things like plague, disease, and war will devastate the land. These curses will eventually become very personal with skin diseases; they will also make a person ritually impure and thus unable to participate in the community’s worship.
As long as the diseases are present, even if they are incurable, those who suffer from them are banned from the temple. The punishment for choosing not to worship God, in other words, is ultimately not being able to worship God.
This list of futility curses is followed by a grisly description of the horrors of foreign invasion and siege. The people, unfortunately, will experience these very terrors when Assyria invades the Northern Kingdom of Israel, conquering it in 722 B.C. and exiling the population, and when Babylon invades the Southern Kingdom of Judah, destroying Jerusalem in 587 B.C. and carrying the people off into exile.
The covenant treaty found in this book ends on a very bleak note. Unfortunately its dismal warnings are not heeded. The people of Israel are unfaithful to the Lord. They worship other gods; and as a result, their land is conquered and they are carried away into exile.
However, the covenant God has made with their ancestors is unconditional. Even though the people have broken the specific covenant He has made with them at Mount Horeb, forfeiting the blessings it promised, the Lord is still bound to His covenant relationship with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and their descendants forever.
And so He enters into a new covenant with them, to replace the one that has been broken.
Spiritual insensitivity is its own punishment. It’s not that the Lord doesn’t want the people to be able to see and understand how His great works disclose His character and purposes, it’s just that such insights are only available to those who will humbly acknowledge and obey Him in response.
Spiritual perception is a special gift from God, and it isn’t given to those who stubbornly resist. Instead, they are allowed to continue having eyes that don’t see, ears that don’t hear, and minds that don’t understand.
Circumcision of the body is a physical sign of membership in the covenant God has made with Abraham and his descendants ( Genesis 17:9–14 ).
When Moses says here that the people’s hearts will be circumcised, that the hardness around them will be cut away, he means their thoughts, desires, and intentions will be brought into the covenant — that is, they will want to be faithful to their relationship with the Eternal One. (The same idea is expressed in 10:16, where Moses literally tells the people to “circumcise their hearts,” meaning that they should commit to the covenant with the Eternal One not just outwardly but inwardly.) The prophets describe the new covenant in the same way: “a new heart and new spirit” ( Ezekiel 36:26–28 ).
Covenants between two people are typically witnessed by a third party. If one person doesn’t live up to his obligations and tries to argue that it was not necessary, the other person can then appeal to the witness to confirm the original terms of the agreement.
Moses calls on the sky and the land to be the witnesses here. They will always be around to testify about the covenant terms that were offered to the people and how they agreed to them. The formal treaty and its supplement have now been drawn up and witnessed.
The only business remaining is to establish how the treaty will be carried on once the people who originally made it are gone. The Lord chooses Joshua to succeed Moses, to lead Israel into the land and represent them in their relationship with Him.
The Lord commissions Moses to write a song that will serve as an enduring witness of His covenant with the people of Israel. It is to be passed down from generation to generation; and even if it cannot last quite as long as the sky and the land, so long as it does last it will speak in a way that they cannot. Of course, since the song is recorded in the Scriptures the people of God will always cherish it as they do all of His Word!
Earlier Moses has described the Eternal One as Israel’s “Father” ( verse 6 ). Now he uses the image of a mother going into labor and giving birth to describe the Eternal One’s tender affection and sacrificial love for the nation.
The Lord has “called Israel His own” in the way that cities and territories in the ancient world are named after those who have explored, settled, or conquered them. It is understood that the person whose name is attached to a place will have continuing interests there, such as preventing anyone else from taking the crops, oppressing the people, and so forth.
The Lord’s name is literally “over” the people of Israel, providing shelter and protection. Anyone who wants to harass them has to answer to Him, so His great reputation will keep them safe from marauders. If they are trusting and obedient, they will be protected from spiritual dangers and attacks by the power and reputation of the One who has called them by His own name.