Information Point: Deuteronomy

Image by www.saamvisual.com

Image by www.saamvisual.com

Each month, the Big Bible Project takes a book of the Bible as a theme for posts. This series acts as a tourist information point, highlighting some of the best-known parts of each book of the Bible and drawing attention to some hidden gems which you might not have thought to explore!

information point banner

Quick Overview

‘Deuteronomy’ is the second giving of the Law. If you’re thinking, ‘what, a second time?!’ you won’t be alone, but you will be missing out. Deuteronomy is probably the most theologically packed book of the Pentateuch, that is the first five books of the Bible that we know as the Law or the books of Moses.

It is, in essence, a fresh articulation of the law for the people of Israel on the eve of their inheritance of the promised land. Having heard God’s covenant promise re-affirmed, they are given the stark choice to obey and enjoy his blessings or disobey and endure his curse. Eventually, it’s the choice we must all make. Which path will the nation take? Which path will we? Deuteronomy is therefore a deeply practical book, jammed full of insights into the character and purposes of God.

Historical and literary context

The final of the five books of the Law, Deuteronomy traditionally has been regarded as having been composed primarily by Moses. Large portions of the book are reported dialogue from God and Moses. It is composed rather in the manner of contract or covenant document; a bit like the terms and conditions of use. Unlike our modern-day idea of small-print, though, Deuteronomy was a public composition, designed to be read regularly in front of the assembled nation. It is a community charter; a manifesto for a new nation.

Best-known bits

We couldn’t have the second giving of the Law without a second set of the Ten Commandments (chapter 5). As in Exodus 20, the giving of the Ten Commandments is predicated on the already-manifested grace of God. I have saved you, he says, so this is how you ought to live. The fact that we have the commandments a second time is evidence of his ongoing grace. There is nothing substantially new here (although if you want a rewarding afternoon, I urge you to look into the differences between the two chapters). No, this is patient, gracious forbearance of God at work, reminding us of what we used to know, what we ought to know, what we do know really but live as if we don’t.

The greatest commandment, the Shema (6:4-9), is the highest peak of Old Testament ethical teaching. It is disarmingly simple in its statement, claiming your everything for God. In public, in private, in wakefulness, in sleep, be people of the covenant. The Law, the covenant agreement between God and his people, is to inform all that they do all the time because of who God is (verse 4). And their lives will be changed as a result of that focus. This is radical: no wonder Jesus referred to it as the greatest commandment (Mk 12:29-30). Our challenge is to make these verses our own as we live out our lives in our communities.

Under the surface

If Deuteronomy is a covenant document that claims everything from God’s people, then it is an extremely serious document to do business with. Doing business with God is extremely serious. It’s risky. The stakes are high. The promise of blessing is real and glorious, but the warning of the consequences of disobedience are stark and troubling. Chapters 7, 8, and 9 of Deuteronomy emphasise that Israel doesn’t deserve God’s blessing, yet he holds it out to his people nonetheless. The message of Deuteronomy is that God’s blessing is not to be taken for granted, therefore, or to be taken lightly. Succinctly, Chapter 28 sets up an IF / ELSE argument, just like computer programmers use to dictate logic in software applications. If the people live well in their inherited land, they will know God’s blessing. Or else, if they live poorly, they will experience his condemnation. God invites us to make a choice about how we will live when his blessing is held out to us: will we receive it with open hands and bent knee, or will we reject it and try to make our own blessings in life? Jesus said something similar: “From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.” (Luke 12:48)

One final note on Deuteronomy, as the Books of Moses draw to a close, is that this is only the first stage of the story. With increasing clarity, Deuteronomy firmly establishes Joshua  as Moses’ successor and the leader who would take Israel into the promised land (chapter 31 and throughout). Joshua was one of the faithful spies from Numbers 13 and 14, and was trained as Moses’ apprentice subsequently. With Moses’ passing, Joshua is given responsibility for leading the people. The Bible story is continuing. God is still bringing about his plan for the salvation of the world. The nation of Israel has been prepared in the desert; they have their covenant terms in the Law; they are ready to enter the land and take possession of it. And Joshua will lead them there.

Key verses

“Sovereign Lord, you have begun to show to your servant your greatness and your strong hand. For what god is there in heaven or on earth who can do the deeds and mighty works you do?” (3:24)

Keep his decrees and commands, which I am giving you today, so that it may go well with you and your children after you and that you may live long in the land the Lord your God gives you for all time. (4:40)

 Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.(6:4-9)

And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God ask of you but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in obedience to him, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to observe the Lord’s commands and decrees that I am giving you today for your own good?(10:12-13)

About Ali Gledhill

Ali lives in London, reads quite a bit, writes a little less, rides a bike, serves the church, avoids eye contact with strangers on the train, and has a website profile at gledhillonline.co.uk.