Wednesday, August 9, 2017
Deuteronomy and Second Law
1 These are the words that Moses spoke to all the people of Israel while they were in the wilderness east of the Jordan River. . . . 2 Normally it takes only eleven days to travel from Mount Sinai (Horeb) to Kadesh-barnea (the Promised Land’s borders), going by way of Mount Seir. 3 But forty years after the Israelites left Egypt, on the first day of the eleventh month, Moses addressed the people of Israel, telling them everything the LORD had commanded him to say. . . . 5 While the Israelites were in the land of Moab east of the Jordan River, Moses carefully explained the LORD’s instructions as follows. Deuteronomy 1:1-3, 5 (NLT)
The book of Deuteronomy is one of the greatest books of the Holy Bible. Many biblical scholars view Deuteronomy as a covenant, treaty, or constitution between the living God and His people Israel. Webster’s Dictionary defines covenant as a promise. However, others see Deuteronomy as Moses, one of Israel’s greatest prophets, giving his farewell address to Israel before his death. At the end of his life, Moses gave some important parting words to a new generation of Israel.
The book of Deuteronomy is the last of the first five books of the Pentateuch, a collection known to Jewish tradition as the Torah, which means “Law.” The Law is God’s rule of life for the Jews, and if they obeyed, God would bless them. Of course, believers of Jesus today are not under the Law but under grace (e.g., see John 1:17; Romans 6:14-15), but they still walk in the righteousness of the Law through the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit of God (see Romans 8:1-4). Thus, believers of Jesus now have the indwelling Holy Spirit of God to empower us to obey the Law and do good rather than evil (Jeremiah 31:31-34; Acts 5:32; Galatians 5:22-23, 25; Philippians 2:13).
In Deuteronomy, Moses summarizes the essences of Israel’s religion – a covenant relationship with God. The living God had graciously given His love to Israel’s fathers, also called the patriarchs – Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Because of God’s gracious love given to Israel, Moses’ primary concern was that Israel responds with wholehearted love and obedience to God (e.g., see Deuteronomy 4:37; Deuteronomy 7:7-8; Deuteronomy 10:15; Deuteronomy 23:5). At least 15 times in Deuteronomy, Moses repeatedly tells Israel to wholeheartedly love and obey God. Through wholehearted love and obedience to God, Israel would continue to receive God’s life, favor (grace), and blessings (e.g., see Deuteronomy 4:40; Deuteronomy 6:24-25; Deuteronomy 12:28). Life itself depended on keeping God’s righteous laws (e.g., see Deuteronomy 4:1; Deuteronomy 5:32-33; Deuteronomy 8:1; Deuteronomy 16:20). Furthermore, Moses instructed Israel to show love and mercy to their fellow brothers and sisters. Thus, many biblical scholars see Deuteronomy not as a list of mechanical rules, but God’s love letter to Israel.
The book of Deuteronomy is an important book to read and study. First, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ quoted from Deuteronomy to disprove the devil (see Matthew 4:1-11; Luke 4:1-13, quoting Deuteronomy 6:13; Deuteronomy 6:16; Deuteronomy 8:3). Even more, Jesus used Deuteronomy’s teaching to summarize the greatest and first commandment of the Law and the Prophets – “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (see Matthew 22:37-38; Mark 12:29-31; Luke 10:27-28; quoting Deuteronomy 6:4-5). Much of Jesus’ great Sermon on the Mount and Sermon on the Plains are restatements of God’s righteous commands (see Matthew 5:1-7:29; Luke 6:17-49). Of the 27 books of the New Testament, 21 books of the New Testament either quote or allude to Deuteronomy. Some especially important Scripture passages from Deuteronomy include Deuteronomy 5:6-21 (the Ten Commandments); Deuteronomy 6:4-9 (the Shema, “Hear, O Israel”); Deuteronomy 13:1-5 (on false prophets); Deuteronomy 18:9-15 (on false diviners) and Deuteronomy 29:1-30:20 (the Palestinian covenant). Finally, the Holy Scriptures repeat many of the righteous commands from Deuteronomy. God wanted to protect life from murder, respect marriage as holy, protect private property, telling the truth, and setting aside a day for worship of God (e.g., see Deuteronomy 5:6-21; Deuteronomy 32:35; Matthew 19:16-19; Romans 12:9-21; Romans 13:8-10).
Thus, God’s biblical law is more than lists of dos and don’ts. Rather, God’s biblical law is God’s expectations regarding belief and behavior that if faithfully obeyed and followed will bring God’s blessing. As a reminder, the Israelites’ exodus from Egyptian slavery freed Israel to become God’s faithful servants to the world – a priestly kingdom and a holy nation (see Exodus 19:4-6; Deuteronomy 4:5-8). God’s law is embodied most famously in the Ten Commandments (see Deuteronomy 5:6-21), and most succinctly in the Shema (sees Deuteronomy 6:4-5). All other laws of God and the Old Testament Prophets are interpretations and applications of God’s Ten Commandments and the Shema. The life that resulted from obedience to the law is not eternal life in the New Testament sense. Instead, this life was God’s promise that if the Israelites were faithful to the covenant, the nation could expect long and prosperous days in the land (see Deuteronomy 4:1; Deuteronomy 5:16, 33; Deuteronomy 10:8-9). Jesus Christ our Savior also urged His disciples to keep the Ten Commandments and the demands of the Shema (see Matthew 5:17-20; Matthew 22:37-40) — not to have eternal life but as an expression of commitment to Him (see John 14:15-21).
Many biblical scholars believe Moses wrote the first five books of the Bible (the Pentateuch) which includes Deuteronomy. However, over the past 250 years, some biblical scholars have concluded that Moses did not author the Pentateuch and believe the Pentateuch is a collection of four major source documents dating from the 10th to the 15th centuries B.C. This theory is known as the “Documentary” or “JEDP” hypothesis. Central to this theory is the belief that Deuteronomy was the document discovered during Josiah’s reformation in 622 B.C. (see 2 Kings 22:8-11). Moreover, some critics argue Deuteronomy’s recording of Moses’ death suggests that Moses did not write Deuteronomy (see Deuteronomy 34:5-12). However, both Jewish and Christian sources are unanimous in attributing Deuteronomy to Moses. The book of Deuteronomy explicitly references Moses as the author (e.g., see Deuteronomy 1:1; Deuteronomy 4:44; Deuteronomy 31:9, 22; Deuteronomy 33:4). Moreover, the Old Testament reference Moses as the author of Deuteronomy (e.g., see Joshua 1:7, 13; Joshua 8:31-32; Judges 3:4; 1 Kings 2:3; 8:56; 2 Kings 14:6; Kings 23:25; 1 Chronicles 15:15; 1 Chronicles 22:13; 2 Chronicles 25:4; Ezra 3:2; 6:18; Nehemiah 1:7; Daniel 9:11, 13; Malachi 4:4). Furthermore, the New Testament reference Moses as the author of Deuteronomy (e.g., see Matthew 19:7-8; Mark 7:10; Luke 2:22; Luke 16:29; John 1:17; John 7:19; Acts 13:39; Acts 15:1, 5; 1 Corinthians 9:9; 2 Corinthians 3:15; Hebrews 10:28). Finally, the writings of the Jewish rabbis also attribute Moses as the rightful author of Deuteronomy (e.g., Baba Bathra 14b-15a).
Biblical scholars often call the book of Deuteronomy the “second law.” In Deuteronomy, Moses summarizes his teaching and events from Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers. Deuteronomy repeated verbatim the Ten Commandments and other laws given at Mount Sinai and recorded at Exodus chapters 20 through 24, Leviticus, and Numbers (e.g., see Deuteronomy 4:44 – 5:33). The first generation of Israelites leaving Egypt had received God’s righteous commandments at Mount Sinai (see Exodus 19 – 24). At Mount Sinai, Israel verbally agreed to obey the covenant (see Exodus 24:3). However, this first generation of Israelites rebelled against God’s righteous commands and eventually died off during their wilderness wandering (e.g., see Exodus 21-32; Deuteronomy 9:23-24; Deuteronomy 32:8-14). Lacking faith and obedience to God, the first generation of Israelites spent 40 years in the wilderness wandering on a journey from Egypt to the Promised Land that should have lasted only 11 days (see Numbers 14:28-35; Deuteronomy 1:2-3)! The first generation of Israelites that left Egypt refused to believe and trust the living God and accept their inheritance in the Promised Land (see Numbers 13 and 14). They repeatedly grumbled and complained against God (e.g., see Exodus 16:7, 12; Numbers 14:27; Deuteronomy 1:34-35). As punishment for their disbelief in the living God, God punished the first generation of ancient Israelites to wandering the wilderness for 40 years (see Numbers 14:29-30, 33-34; Deuteronomy 2:14-15).
Then on the east bank of the Jordan River, Moses prepared the sons and daughters of that faithless first generation to enter and possess the Promised Land of God. As a new generation of Israelites was about to enter the long-awaiting Promised Land of God, Moses instructed and reminded the people of the living God’s righteous commands. This new generation of Israelites had not personally experienced the deliverance at the Red Sea (see Exodus 13 and 14) or the giving of the Law at Sinai (see Exodus 19 and 20). Moses reminded this new generation of God’s power and God’s moral standards before ending God’s Promised Land.
In the opening verses of Deuteronomy, Moses gave a new generation of Israelites a second chance to believe and obey the living God so they would not repeat the sins of their father. Moses wrote Deuteronomy to review God’s commands and laws for the new generation of Israelites who had survived the wilderness experience. The book of Joshua tells the story of Israel’s second generation under Joshua’s leadership entering and victoriously conquering the Promised Land for God’s glory. Before his death, Joshua reminded Israel to wholeheartedly love and obey God and follow His righteous commands as instructed by Moses (see Joshua 24). However, Israel did not continue to obey God’s instructions. After Joshua’s death, another generation of Israelites returned to disobedience, unfaithfulness, and rebellion against the living God by serving and worshipping other gods such as Baal and the Ashtoreths and disregarded His righteous commands (see Judges 2:6-7, 10-15). Israel’s disobedience angered the living God, and God gave this next generation of disobedient Israelites over to their enemies and brought them defeat (see Judges 2:10-15). The rest of the Old Testament is God’s efforts through His prophets, priest, and servants to return His people to love Him faithfully as their only true God and King and obey His righteous commands.
As a reminder, the land of promise was unconditionally given Abraham and to his seed in the Abrahamic Covenant (see Genesis 13:15; Genesis 15:7). However, the Promised Land was under the conditional Palestinian Covenant at Deuteronomy 28 through 30. Utterly violating the conditions of that God’s covenant (promise) caused Israel’s first disruption at 1 Kings 12 with the dividing of the kingdom. Israel’s continual disobedience and rebellion against the living God lead to Israel exile from the Promised Land (see 2 Kings 17:1-18; 2 Kings 24:1 through 2 Kings 25:11).
Deuteronomy gives Moses’ instructions on the importance of wholehearted faithfulness, obedience, and love to the living God and His moral commands. If Israel continued to love and obey God, God promised Israel strength, victory, and peace. However, Moses reminds Israel that rebellion and disobedience against the living God would lead to God’s wrath, destruction, and defeat (see Deuteronomy 28 and 29). Repeatedly, Moses reminds Israel to keep God’s Law! The essences of the entire Law and the Prophets is to love the LORD God first and love others (see Matthew 22:34-40). Deuteronomy is Moses’ repeated call to love, trust, and obey the living God FIRST!
God’s love forms the foundation for our trust in Him. The living God cares for us, and He will protect us (see Isaiah 46:3-4). The God of Israel has no equal, and He is the only living and true God (see Isaiah 46:5, 9). Choosing to love and obey wholeheartedly God benefits us and improves our relationships with others.
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