Posted by David Holder on March 14, 2012
Deuteronomy is far more than a second presentation of the law, as the title indicates. It is a record of Moses speeches to Israel just before the nation entered the Promised Land. Moses would not be going with them, due to his own sins. The book opens with 120 year old Moses (31:1) standing before Israel in the plains of Moab, just across the Jordan to the east speaking “according to all the Lord had commanded him to give them” (1:3). He spoke with love, passion, and perhaps a tinge of regret that he would not set foot in the land he had heard and thought about for so long. Moses spoke clearly and forcefully, urging his people to obey God and enjoy the blessings God wanted to give them. Let’s listen to Moses and understand the message of Deuteronomy.
We begin by briefly surveying the contents of Deuteronomy. It was time for Israel to remember the past, to plan for the near future in the land, and most importantly to commit themselves to God. In short, Moses help his people took backward from where they had come, and then onward to what lay ahead, and upward to God who pledged to be with them and enormously bless them. Moses was urging a rather small and inexperienced nation to commit itself wholeheartedly to the Lord. What Moses said in that setting provides both a model and motivation for us to renew our commitment to God and to face the future with confidence and hope as we participate in His wonderful blessings and take hold of His great promises. We may look at the content of Deuteronomy in two ways.
The book comprises Moses speeches to His people, each marked out by a reference to the location and setting in which it was given.
- 1:1-4:13 – “across the Jordan in the land of Moab” (1:1-5)
- 4:44-28:68 – across the Jordan, in the valley opposite Beth-peor” (4:44-49)
- 29:1-32:52 – “in the land of Moab” (29:1)
The first speech – chapters 1-4 is oriented toward the past, recounting Israel’s journey from Sinai through the wilderness and on to their present location, the place from which they would enter Canaan. The second speech – chapters 5-28 is oriented to the future and concerns Israel’s life under the law in the land. And the third speech – chapters 29-32 is Moses leading Israel to covenant renewal.
Deuteronomy may also be viewed as a treaty or covenant document. Discoveries of ancient treaties, especially Hittite suzerain treaties, has shed light on the form of Deuteronomy. The ancient treaties typically had five parts:
- Historical Prologue
- Curses and Blessings
- Arrangements for the Treaty: Witnesses & Provisions for reading
It is impressive and quite remarkable to see that Deuteronomy follows this form:
- Preamble (1:1-5)
- Historical prologue (1:6-3:29)
- Stipulations (4-26)
- Curses and Blessings (27-30)
- Arrangements for the Treaty (31-34)
One other view of Deuteronomy is helpful, that of the large central section (5-26). This section may be an exposition of the Decalogue or Ten Commands. To put this another way, the ten commands (ch. 5) supply a framework for the more extensive presentation and application of the law (chs. 12-26).
- No other gods (5:6-7) – Worship (12:1-21)
- No idols (5:8-10) – Loyalty (13:1-19)
- Name of God in vain (5:11) – respect (14:1-21)
- Sabbath (5:12-15) – rest & remembrance (14:22-16:17
- Honor parents (5:16) – authority (16:18-18:22)
- Murder (5:17) – respect for life (19:1-22:8)
- Adultery (5:18) – purity (22:9-23:19)
- Stealing (5:19) – honesty (23:7-24:7)
- Lying (5:20) – fairness (24:8-25:4)
- Coveting (5:21) – coveting (25:5-16)
Now we turn our attention to the message of Deuteronomy. This book is clear evidence that God is still with His people. He delivered them from slavery in Egypt, directed them towards the Promised Land, and then disciplined them in the wilderness, but He was still with them. God entered a covenant with Abraham and His descendants, and He never forgot or turned back from it. He had to deal with the people’s fear and lack of faith, but He did not abandon them. Listen to Moses talk to the people about God – 7:6-9. He chose these people out of His sovereign love and faithfully stayed with them because of His remarkable grace. He is the great and powerful and loving and only God – 4:32-38. He speaks to His people and made arrangements for His word to be before them perpetually.
Deuteronomy also emphasizes the land … the Promised Land, to be exact. God had promised a land to Israel for many years, and the people had been thinking about it. In Deuteronomy, Moses calls it a “good land” (8:7-10), one for which God cared in a special way. Israel’s possessing the land was directly related to keeping God’s commands. God gave the land for Israel’s good, and it must be settled and lived in on God’s terms.
In Deuteronomy, Moses is firm about people both fearing and loving God. Moses called people to fear God – 6:24-25, a fear that hovers between dread and devotion, fear that is a healthy respect for God. And Moses urges the people to love God from within their hearts. To made a contrast, we often explain the Moasic law as “completely external” and as “outward forms of obedience,” but was not and never has been God’s intention of way of dealing with His people. God wants people to love with their whole being,
Deuteronomy shows God as patient and powerful, gracious and serious. He is God who directs and disciplines His people, who gives them a good land, and warns that He will take it away if they turn away from Him. He is a God who blesses and curses, depending on what people do about loving and obeying Him. Could any message be more relevant or more needed today? To do what God says to do is not legalism. It is love! Listen to Moses’ clear words and passionate plea to his people – Deuteronomy 30:15-20.