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This blog site will feature essays, columns and musings that deal with the intersection of Christianity and journalism and the American Songbook.

Christian journalist: Moses says “Keep it simple stupid” (Deuteronomy 27:8)

Deuteronomy 27:8. “And you shall write very clearly all the words of this law on these stones you have set up.”

Exegesis and Application

The Israelites are camped on the shores of the Jordan River ready to cross over into the promised land of Canaan. And Moses is directed by God to deliver some final instructions before the crossing. Deuteronomy is comprised of three Mosaic messages: chapters 1 – 5, 5 – 28, and 29 – 30. In all three messages we read of Moses “writing” (Hebrew: “kothav”) words for the Israelites to read. And in two of these messages (1:5 and 27:8) we read that Moses spoke and wrote “clearly” or “plainly” so that the Israelites would understand what they read.

The key phrase in 27:8 is “write very clearly” and is the Hebrew couplet boair haitaiv. Breaking it apart can yield valuable understanding. boair (or beer) can be translated “to speak clearly or plainly,” “to make distinct” or “to declare well.” Boair is used only three times as a verb in the Old Testament: twice in Deuteronomy and then years later in Habakkuk 2:2. In Deut. 1:5 the word means “exposition,” “to explain” or “to comment.” The meaning is clear enough: “Write clearly and plainly so that a correct understanding will be achieved by the reader.” Interestingly, boair has its roots in a Hebrew noun meaning “artificial hole,” as in a “pit,” “well,” or “cistern” (e.g., “Beersheba = “Well of Seven”). This word can be a symbol of wisdom as the place of deepening thoughts or a source of blessing through discovery. Human endeavor is to draw forth something, such as water, or even meaning. So this phrase can mean to dig down into a subject, to bore to the core of an issue or explain the context of an issue.

Moses isn’t through with this artful admonition in 27:8. To boair he adds the adverb haitaiv to give emphasis. Haitaiv means “thoroughly,” “diligently,” or “skillfully.” Moses has already told the Church to write the law on large, “plaster-covered stones” (27:2-3). He now repeats the command: do the writing in thoroughly plain language so that every member of the Church can understand the “words of this law.”

Moses’ first message (Deuteronomy 1 – 5) is most instructive for us because it is replete with erudition. What “expounding” means for Moses is that his first talk will include geographical, historical, economic, sociological, theological and political references. The point seems to be that before the Israelites can enter into the cultural wars with the Canaanites they must be reminded of their distinctive worldview and how they got that worldview. Moses will later get to a reiteration of the Ten Commandments, but first he sets the intellectual groundwork for the revealed Siniatic law. This clear teaching of the Torah by Moses reminds me of how the Westminster Confession of Faith explicates the Ten Commandments.

Note several things about 27:8: 1) The words are to be written so that all can see them immediately upon crossing the Jordan into the land of promise. There is to be no delay in setting before the Church the instruction in, and application of, the law. 2) The words are to be engraved on “large stones covered with plaster.” The plaster will be white and the stones will be large and black so the words will be easy to read.
Christian journalist, the application to us from this passage seems to be at several points:

1) Our reporting should be as erudite as possible with references to history, economics, sociology, politics, etc. We do well to emulate Moses in setting our reporting in a context of cultural relevance.

2) Our reporting should be as clear and clean and concise as it possibly can be. If Moses can explicate the law of God in three chapters, and then on stones, we can surely write our stuff briefly.

3) Our reporting should be applicable and interesting to any reader. Our writing should be on white stones so that no one can miss our reporting. That is, we should be using all the current technologies to distribute our stuff.

4) It is no virtue to write our English at a graduate level of understanding.

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