Deuteronomy: Remembering God's Law
After years of faithful service, great leaders often give farewell addresses. For example, none is more memorable in American history than President George Washington’s farewell address. Since February 22, 1862, members of the United States Senate have participated in the annual reading of Washington’s 1796 Farewell Address. It is one of the most time-honored traditions in the Senate.
Long before General Washington served as America’s first president, leading the embryonic nation in a “we the people” experiment, God appointed someone to lead more than two million Hebrew slaves out of Egypt and to a land that He promised to give them. That leader’s name was Moses, an epic hero on history’s stage and the man of God’s own choosing to forward the Israeli Exodus. The book of Deuteronomy contains a series of farewell addresses delivered by Moses on the plains of Moab to the children of Israel prior to his death on Mount Nebo at one hundred and twenty years old.
If we picture Moses as so advanced in years that he can barely move or string two thoughts together, we are wrong. The last chapter of Deuteronomy, probably written by Joshua after Moses died, says of him, “His eye was undimmed, and his vigor unabated” (34:7). To his last breath, Moses was a man of great vision and strength.
The word “Deuteronomy” is the title given to the book by the translators of the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament. It means “second law” and comes from the Greek words deuteros (second) and nomos (law). In that sense, Deuteronomy is a book of remembrance as the Lord instructed Moses to teach the Law of God to the second generation of Israelites before they entered Canaan and took possession of the Promised Land.
Whereas Numbers editorially spans forty years, Deuteronomy covers only two months, the last month of Moses’s life plus thirty days of mourning that followed his death. Structurally, the book presents three verbal addresses by Moses. The first address he made is historical and looks back over the forty years of wilderness wanderings (1:1-4:43). The second speech by Moses, the largest section of the book, is introspective and encourages the new generation of Israelites to look within by applying God’s law to their own lives through self-examination (4:44-26). The third sermon by Moses is prospective, looking ahead to the time when the Israelites will physically dwell in the Promised Land, having taken it by conquest (27-34).
Deuteronomy repeats many of the same laws and ordinances found in Leviticus and then expands the law. What is the difference between the two books? Whereas Leviticus was written to the priests and Levites as a handbook on holiness to assist them in their Tabernacle duties, Deuteronomy was written to the laity. As such, Deuteronomy soars rhetorically in ways not found elsewhere in the Pentateuch. For example, Deuteronomy records the Shema, a confession of faith that devout Jews still use in their evening prayers: "Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might” (6:4-5).
The significance of the Jewish Shema cannot be overestimated. As one of three monotheistic religions, Judaism declares that God is a plurality in unity, also known as the holy trinity—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. One God expresses Himself in three distinct persons and personalities. The plural form of God’s name appears in Scripture as early as the creation story and hints at the holy trinity. In the Shema, the Hebrew word translated “our God” is the plural Elohim (gods), which also appears in Genesis 1. An even deeper dive into the Hebrew language of the Shema reveals that the word translated “one” speaks of a collective or compound unity. Think of “one” as in one cluster of grapes.[i]
By reciting the entire Shema,[ii] devoted Jews profess their monotheistic faith, declare their loving allegiance to the Lord, and commit themselves to the study of the Torah. As an ancient liturgy, the Shema also provides timeless instruction for parents in how to raise children who love God (6:6-9).
If Leviticus is worthy of our fondest affection (“I love Leviticus”), Deuteronomy is delicious! Feasting on this holy writ is delightful. Even Jesus consumed large portions and memorized it. The Son of God spoke more from Deuteronomy than from any other book in the Old Testament. For example, when the devil attacked Jesus in the wilderness after forty days of prayer and fasting, Jesus defended Himself by picking up the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God (Ephesians 6:17), and said, “It is written,” not once but three times in response to three diabolical attacks (Matthew 4:1-11). All three times, Jesus quoted from the book of Deuteronomy.
Say it with me: Deuteronomy is delicious! In Deuteronomy 8:3, Moses reminded the Israelites of God’s provision for them in the wilderness. “And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.” The word of God is spiritual food that should be consumed as daily bread for your soul, because it is.
There is another reason Deuteronomy is delicious. The fifth and final book of the Pentateuch reveals God’s love for the first time in the Bible. While Genesis through Numbers reveals many other aspects of God’s character, they remain silent about the love of God. Not so in the book of Deuteronomy. Read these delicious words in 7:7-8:
“It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the Lord set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but it is because the Lord loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers, that the Lord has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt.”
Deuteronomy may not soar to the heights of John 3:16 when it comes to the love of God, but it sure comes close.[iii] In an interview with Life magazine, Oprah Winfrey said, “No one ever told me I was loved. Ever, ever, ever. Reading and being able to be a smart girl was my only sense of value, and it was the only time I felt loved.” Deuteronomy has good news for Oprah and us: God loves you.
Like the fourteeners in Colorado, at least four key principles rise from the plains of Moab, where Moses delivered his farewell addresses. The first cannot be missed. I call it the principle of obedience. Take a moment to read Deuteronomy 4:1, 5, and 14, and then the verses below. Pay attention to the words “walk in all his ways” and “keep the commandments.”
“And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God require of you, but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to keep the commandments and statutes of the Lord, which I am commanding you today for your good?” (10:12-13).
Repeatedly, Moses instructed the children of Israel to do what the Lord told them to do. In that way, he reminds me of James in the New Testament, who says, “Be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves” (James 1:22).
John Sammis was a Presbyterian minister from Indiana who wrote more than one hundred hymns of the Christian faith. One of them is called “Trust and Obey.” The chorus says, “Trust and obey, for there’s no other way, to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.” The sentiment of the hymn is what Moses was trying to convey to the generation of Israelites about to enter the Promised Land. The obedience of faith was something their parents and grandparents failed to exercise, which is why the Lord let them die in the wilderness.
Moses could not have been clearer with his countrymen. God’s blessings in the Promised Land were for those who obeyed Him, and curses or consequences would fall upon the disobedient (11:26-28).
Obedience to the Lord’s commands is a hallmark of the Christian faith, and not just for Old Testament Israel. In the Great Commission, for example, Jesus placed obedience at the heart of discipleship. After His resurrection, Jesus summoned His disciples to a mountaintop in Galilee and said to them, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20, italics added).
Elsewhere, Jesus made sure His disciples understood the connection between love, obedience, and closeness with the Father and Him. In the Upper Room, Jesus said, “Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him” (John 14:21). In other words, trust and obey, for there is no other way to remain in close fellowship with Jesus than to trust and obey.
I also see the principle of generational transfer looming large in Deuteronomy. Picture in your mind a gray and weathered-looking Moses standing before the next generation with vim and vigor. He knows that he does not have much time to say what the Lord has commanded him to say. In less than a month, Moses will scale Mount Nebo, catch a glimpse of the Promised Land, and die. There is no time to waste.
Can you hear the urgency in Moses’s voice throughout Deuteronomy? Hopefully, you possess the same importunateness about your own children's future. Lately, I have been thinking a lot about Proverbs 13:22, which says, “A good man leaves an inheritance to his children’s children.” That verse encourages leaving an inheritance, financial and otherwise, that impacts at least three generations.[iv
The principle of generational transfer found in Deuteronomy is less about the passing of money and valuable assets to the next generation as it is the conveying of godly values, although both should be taken into consideration. Transferring your wealth without also transferring the wisdom to manage life God’s way sets the next generation up for failure. What are you doing to transfer biblical values to your kids and grandkids? When you are gone, will they still be talking about the impact of your faith in Jesus on them?
Next is the principle of faithfulness. Discovering Deuteronomy 29:5 is like finding a nugget of pure gold. The Lord said through Moses, “I have led you forty years in the wilderness. Your clothes have not worn out on you, and your sandals have not worn off your feet.”
This verse makes me want to start singing one of my favorite hymns of the faith called “Great is Thy Faithfulness.” Truly, in summer and winter and springtime and harvest, God is faithful to His word and promises, and He always takes care of His kids. This golden verse also reminds us of the goodness and severity of God (Romans 11:22). In the wilderness, the severity of God fell upon those who fell into unbelief; it was also the place where that same generation experienced the goodness of God through His faithful provision.
Finally, I see the principle of greatness related to Moses’s life and leadership, plus a Christ connection. The last chapter of the book reads,
And there has not arisen a prophet since in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face, none like him for all the signs and the wonders that the Lord sent him to do in the land of Egypt, to Pharaoh and to all his servants and to all his land, and for all the mighty power and all the great deeds of terror that Moses did in the sight of all Israel. Deuteronomy 34:10-12
Nobody comes close to matching the majesty and greatness of Moses. He defines what it means to be larger-than-life. However, the principle of greatness is not only about Moses; it also points to Jesus. Earlier in Deuteronomy, Moses shared an important prophecy with the children of Isreal, "The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers—it is to him you shall listen” (18:15).
Who is the prophet like Moses? Three New Testament figures agree it is Jesus—John the Baptist (John 1:21), the apostle Peter (Acts 3:32), and Stephen (Acts 7:37). The writer of Hebrews goes one step further. Jesus is the prophet like Moses but with greater glory (Hebrews 3:1-6).
Moses foreshadows the ministry of Jesus as prophet, priest, and king. No wonder he said, “It is to him you shall listen.”
This blog submission is from Route 66: The Ultimate Road Trip Through the Bible, an eBook written by Dr. Ron Jones. Download the complete eBook based on Road Trip 1, the Books of the Law (Genesis through Deuteronomy) in our Store.
[i] The three monotheistic religions are Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Islam denies the holy trinity and says that Christians worship three gods. Unitarians point to the Jewish Shema as evidence that God is one but not three in one (trinity). However, a deep dive into the Hebrew language of the Shema reveals how Unitarianism mischaracterizes Judaism as much as Islam does Christianity.
[ii] Three Scriptural texts make up the Jewish Shema: Deuteronomy 6:4-9, 11:13-21, and Numbers 15:37-41.
[iii] Other places in Deuteronomy that reveal how much God loves His chosen people include 4:36-37, 10:15, and 23:5.
[iv] Managing the resources God has entrusted to you in a way that you can positively impact generations to come in your family, and perhaps outside of your family, requires financial discipline, a well-conceived financial plan, and a generous spirit.
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