Deuteronomy

Loving Obedience to God

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A short introduction

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Starter Course

Getting into the guts of what’s going on

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The meat! And what to do about it!

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Dessert Course

Material for Church leaders and Tertiary level students

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The Key
The Key to unlocking the dynamic

The key to unlocking the dynamic of Deuteronomy is to understand the context. The people of Israel are at last about to enter into the promised land. When reading Deuteronomy, the reader has to shift gears at different parts.  Chapters 1-11 remind the new generation of Israelites of Israel’s history up to that point, but also set the vision for how they are to live in the land.  In Chapters 12-26, God’s requirements are re-presented to the people for a new stage of their life as they move into God’s land. These laws reveal important things about God, and what he is looking for in men and women.  The final chapters, 27-34, give Moses’ warnings to the people about the consequences of disobedience.


hear
Hear
Listen Here

Click on the link above to listen to an audio reading of Deuteronomy.


Read
Read

Since Deuteronomy is a long book and parts of the book are dense and concentrated, you will need to approach it sensibly. At first some sections are perhaps best to just skim read, while others such as chapters 6-11 yield profound insights when they are read and meditated on thoughtfully.

Read chapters 1-11 and think carefully about what they are saying about God and the attitudes he requires from his people.

Read chapters 12-26 more quickly, and try not to get bogged down in the detail.

Read chapters 27-34 and ask yourself what the main emphases of the closing exhortations to God’s people are.


Watch
Watch
Watch here

Click on the link to watch a worship video that expresses the heart of Deuteronomy


Study
Study

Read 1-11 and pause to make sure that you are taking in what the book has to say about God.  It is useful to skim read some of the story in Exodus and Numbers that is re-told by Moses.  When you come across things that seem different, ask yourself why Moses would be putting a different emphasis at this point in Israel’s story.

When you read 12-26, ask what the principles are that lie behind God’s laws, and how those principles might apply to us today.

The final chapters should be studied by reflecting on how blessing and curses work for those who trust in Jesus today.  Jesus became a curse so that we might not stand under God’s curse, and as those who trust in him, we have every spiritual blessing in him.  And yet, there is more for us to know of God’s blessing in our lives.  Part of that blessing involves living in step with the Spirit, walking with him, and being filled by him.  Think about the similarities and differences there are between us and Israel, and how instructions given to them can help us to keep in step with the Spirit.


Meditate
Meditate

Suggested verses for meditation …

4:24   ‘For the Lord your God is a jealous God, a consuming fire.’

4:31   ‘For the Lord your God is a merciful God; he will not abandon or destroy you or forget the covenant with your forefathers, which he confirmed to them by oath.’

6:4-5   ‘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.’

7:6-8   ‘For you are a people holy to the Lord your God. The Lord your God has chosen you out of all the peoples on the face of the earth to be his people, his treasured possession. The Lord did not set his affection ono you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples. But it was because the Lord loved you and kept the oath that he swore to your forefathers.’

31:6   ‘Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.’

33:27   ‘The eternal God is your refuge and underneath are the everlasting arms.’


learn
Learn

Learn: BfL strongly encourages the learning of Scripture

6:4-5   ‘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.’

8:2-5   Be careful to follow every command I am giving you today, so that you may live and increase and may enter and possess the land that the Lord promised on oath to your forefathers. Remember how the Lord your God led you all the way in the desert these forty years, to humble you and to test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands. He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your fathers had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord. Your clothes did not wear out and your feet did not swell during these forty years. Know then in your heart that as a man disciplines his son, so the Lord your God disciplines you.’

 


Challenge
The Challenge

The Challenge

Explanation: We all learn in different ways. This section is for those who find that challenging questions motivate them to master a subject.

Here are ten questions about ‘Deuteronomy’. See how you score. The answers are at the bottom of the page.

 

Q1   What stage have the Israelites reached in their journey at the start of the book of Deuteronomy?

Q2   What is the leading event that chapters 4-5 focus on?

Q3   How are the Israelites to view God’s Law?

Q4   Why does Moses remind the Israelites about the golden calf incident?

Q5   According to Deuteronomy 7 why does God choose the Israelites?

Q6   How is the king to behave (chapter 17)?

Q7   What are the tests and evidence of a genuine prophet (chapters 13 and 18)?

Q8   Who was allowed to not fight in a battle (chapter 20)?  How could Israel afford to carry out such a policy?

Q9   What were the blessings and curses Israel faced, and why?  When in Israel’s story in the rest of the Old Testament do we see these fulfilled?

 Q10   What was different about the promised land to Egypt, and how was that to make a difference to Israel’s life?

 

A1 – They have made it through the wilderness, the older generation who refused to enter the land have died, and the younger generation are on the plains of Moab by the Jordan river, ready to enter the land.

A2 – The giving of the ten commandments.

A3 – As a gift. By following the Law, the nations around will ask what this nation is that has such a great God (chapter 4).

A4 – He is reminding Israel that they do not deserve God’s love – that God has not saved them because of their righteousness (chapter 9).

A5 – Because he loves them (Deuteronomy 7:7-8).

A6 – He is not to have many horses, wives or riches.  He is to be an Israelite, to write out the Law of God and be careful to obey it.  He is not to go back to Egypt to reinforce his army.

A7 – What a true prophet says will come true, and what a true prophet says will guide people to worship the true God.

A8 – Men who had just married, men who had just built a house, or had just acquired a vineyard, or even who were just plain afraid of the battle.

A9 – Blessings were related to prosperity in the land, curses to famine, disease and invasions. We need to read into Judges and beyond to see the different forms the curses and blessings took (see 1 Kings 1-11) for a brief period where life was good.

A10 – Deuteronomy 11:10-12 – it was a land that received growth not from a river flooding each year, but from the rains in season.  Israel would be reliant on God’s provision of water for life in the land.

 

taster course

Overview

Questions

5 mins

    • Video - The book explained in 4 minutes
    • Video
      Summary - All the key features in a one page summary
    • Summary
    • /
    • 21st Century Scenario

    Summary Exhortation

    Deuteronomy is the final book of the Torah – the Hebrew name for the first 5 books of the Bible.  It is set at the point where the people of Israel have been wandering in the wilderness for 40 years.  The generation that left Egypt as adults have died.  The new generation are now on the plains of Moab, by the Jordan opposite Jericho.  Moses gives his final speeches to Israel.  He reminds them how God has led them up to this point, tells them how they are to live as they move into the land God has promised them, and then sets out the blessings that will follow faithful obedience, and the curses that will come when Israel disobeys.

    The book of Deuteronomy contains ‘the Shema’ which are some of the most important words in the whole of the Old Testament: “Hear O Israel, the LORD our God, the LORD is one, you shall worship the LORD your God with all you heart, and all your soul and all your strength…”.  These words come in the context of Moses reminding the Israelites about how God rescued Israel out of Egypt, appeared to them at Sinai and gave them the Law.

    It is important to realise as we read Deuteronomy that Moses is not giving Israel a law as a means to earn God’s approval or his love.  Moses makes it quite clear that Israel has done nothing to deserve God’s love.  God chose Israel to be his people and rescued them out of Egypt.  God then gives Israel his Law so that they know how to please him and how to live the life he intends for them as they enter the land.

    As Christians today we are not under the Law God gave to Moses, but we do follow the one who fulfilled that Law completely.  The way we live as Jesus’ disciples is to live by the Spirit.  The Spirit lives in us, and helps us to live a life of love that matches what the Law always pointed to.  This life by the Spirit is informed and directed by the words of Jesus, and the words of those who followed him which we have in the New Testament.

    Does that mean this Old Testament book is irrelevant?  Can we simply jettison the Old Testament as some would have us do?  No.  When we read Deuteronomy, we read one of the books that shaped Jesus’ own life and mission. We see this clearly in Jesus’ responses to the temptations in the dessert, where on three occasions he quotes God’s expressed will from Deuteronomy. The book of Deuteronomy gives us profound insights into the character and nature of God and in this context we learn how he wants his people to live.  Jesus himself expounds this in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7), where he taught how the intention of the Mosaic laws should be obeyed.

    Contemporary Scenario

    Imagine that, as a result of political turmoil in Europe, a new country was created and you were given responsibility for writing its constitution.

    What values would shape and determine the laws that you frame for its citizens?

     

     

    21st Century Scenario >
    taster Questions - Questions to start you off

    Question 1 -

    Have you ever moved house to a completely different part of the country, or experienced a fundamental transition and change in your life and lifestyle? Was the transition traumatic? How did it affect your relationship with God?


    starter course

    podcasts

    the essentials

    Questions

    10 mins

    • podcasts - 3 to 5 minute ‘Teach-Ins’ on key themes

    Jesus and Deuteronomy -Temptation

    Jesus and Deuteronomy - Divorce and Marriage

      the essentials - The literary features explained
    • Context
    • /
    • Literary Genre
    • /
    • Structure
    • /
    • Themes

    Context:

    Author: Since the final part of Deuteronomy describes events after Moses’ death, this book has clearly undergone a process of editing. Nevertheless, it may well be that much of the book goes back to the hand of Moses himself, and certainly the New Testament writers closely associated Moses with the book.

    Date: A range of different dates have been suggested, from the time of Moses to the time of the exile or beyond.  There is no overriding reason to rule out that, while some parts of the book may have been added over time, the bulk of the book was written down either by Moses or by those close to him.

    Circumstances: Moses’ speeches were spoken to Israel when they stood on the boundary of the promised land ready to enter it. The book instructs the people how they were to live.

    Genre: Several different genres are employed: speeches, narrative history, exhortation and religious law. The book is structured in the form of a contemporary (ancient) covenant, emphasising the call to live in faithful devotion and obedience to Yahweh.

    Structure:

    Chapter 1 – 3   Historical backdrop: Israel’s journey from Sinai to Moab

    Chapter 4 – 11   Call for total loyalty to Yahweh as he gives the Law at Sinai

    Chapter 12 – 26   Laws for living as God’s covenant people in the land

    Chapter 27 – 28   Blessings and curses

    Chapter 29 – 30   The covenant is renewed

    Chapter 31 – 34   The death of Moses

     

    Themes:

    1. The nature of God is reflected through the laws given to his people.
    2. Moral laws directing how people should relate to each other.
    1. Holiness lived out towards God and other people.
    1. Loyal love for God that changes how we deal with people – especially the weakest in society.

     

    Literary Genre >
    starter Questions - To help you think carefully about the key issues

    Question 1 -

    As disciples, how can we be loyal to Christ in a secular society that preaches tolerance of all beliefs and lifestyles, but does so in an increasingly totalitarian and intolerant way? What are the boundary lines? What are the distinctions?


    Question 2 -

    Sometimes today it is said that to bring a child up in a particular religion is ‘brainwashing’. How could Deuteronomy 6 help you begin to answer that?


    Question 3 -

    Some parts of Deuteronomy sound like God is promising prosperity as a reward for obedience. In what sense (if at all) is that true for Christians today? How do God’s rewards for us today differ, and how are they similar, to that promised to Israel then?


    Question 4 -

    Some cults today claim to predict the end of the world, and sometimes groups of Christians claim very specific things will happen, which then don’t. What guidelines does Deuteronomy give God’s people to test prophecy by?


    Question 5 -

    In recent years we have seen several sad stories of Christian leaders who have fallen morally in a way that leads to the end of their ministries. What guidelines does Deuteronomy 17 give us that could help leaders to stay on track?


    main course

    Verse by Verse

    The Apprentice

    Questions

    • Verse by Verse - For a thorough understanding of the Biblical text
    • 1-3 Historical Background
    • /
    • 4-11 The call to be loyal to Yahweh
    • /
    • 12-26 The Law for Life
    • /
    • 27-28 Blessings & Curses
    • /
    • 29-30 Covenant Renewal
    • /
    • 31-34 The Death of Moses

    Deuteronomy 1 – 3   Historical backdrop: Israel’s journey from Sinai to Moab

     

    Deuteronomy 1

     

    1:1-4  The book begins: ‘these are the words that Moses spoke to all Israel’.  Deuteronomy contains the final words spoken by Moses to the Israelites, the most important things that the Israelites need to know as they prepare to enter the land.  The verses go on to tell us where Israel were when Moses spoke to them, and how long the journey from Sinai/Horeb to the promised land takes – 11 days.  This seemingly irrelevant detail contrasts with the 40-year journey Israel have in fact taken.  Israel could have entered the land soon after Sinai, but in fact it has taken 40 years for them to make the journey.  As we read on in Deuteronomy, we will discover why.

     

    1:5-8  Moses begins to expound this ‘Law’.  As an English reader we tend to switch off at the idea of reading ‘law’ – it sounds like we are sitting down to read a list of rules. But in the Bible, the Law includes much, much more than just ‘law codes’.  Law is the way that the Hebrew word Torah is often translated into English, but the best way to work out the range of its meaning is to read Deuteronomy carefully.  In Deuteronomy, we have reminders of what God has done for Israel; instructions about how Israel are to remember; commandments that govern life before God.  We have reminders of Israel’s faithlessness; detailed instructions about particular aspects of life; blessings promised for obedience; curses threatened for disobedience, and farewell songs and blessings from Moses.  All of this is included under the heading of ‘Law’.

     

    First, Moses recalls how God had commanded the people to move on from Sinai and make their way to the land. Remember as you read these verses that Moses is speaking to a people who were only children when the events happened.  All the generation who were adults at the time of Exodus have died, but Moses addresses the children as if they had been adult at that time also.  The nation of Israel is one, and the generations are addressed together.  God’s command was backed up by the original promise to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob that they would possess the land.

     

    1:9-18  Moses reminds the Israelites of the way in which he appointed judges and officials to decide disputes between the people (see Exodus 18).  The problem was a good one to have: God had kept his promise and the people were numerous.  It meant that Moses could not do everything; he needed wise people to help him.

     

    This delegation reflects God’s concern for the everyday matters, but also the way that God allows his people to make decisions and take responsibility for their actions.  Notice in v16-17 the concern that justice should be impartial – there should literally be ‘no recognising faces’.  The word for face is commonly used for the presence of someone, and the concern not to ‘lose face’ was very important then, as it is in many places today.  When the judges judged they were not to be concerned about who would lose face, or how important a ‘face’ they were dealing with, but instead uphold justice.

     

    1:19-25  Then Israel set out, at God’s command, to Kadesh Barnea. Moses encouraged them not to be afraid or discouraged, a theme that will be returned to right at the end of the book in Moses’ charge to Joshua as the next generation prepares to enter the land.  Israel had suggested a mission to spy out the land; a different emphasis to Numbers 13:1 which says that Yahweh suggested the mission.  Perhaps, as some commentators suggest, Moses took the people’s request to Yahweh who commanded the 12 spies to represent the 12 tribes.  The spies reported that the land was good.  Numbers describes how 10 of the 12 also talk about the giants in the land, but here only their positive impression of the land is reported.  This prepares the way for Moses’ next point.

     

    1:26-46  The people were unwilling to go up.  They grumbled and were afraid.  Their lack of trust in Yahweh meant that Yahweh would not allow them to enter the land – and neither would he allow Moses to enter.  In Numbers we are told the story of Moses hitting the rock instead of speaking to it, in disobedience to Yahweh’s command, following which Yahweh declares he will not enter the land.  By contrast, in Deuteronomy Moses appears to blame the Israelites for his failure to enter the land.  Possibly from Moses’ perspective the additional strain of the Israelites’ disobedience and wandering was what lead up to his disobedience at the rock.

     

    Israel hear Yahweh forbidding them to enter and change their minds.  But it is too late.  Yahweh has already given the verdict, and he tells Moses again that the people must listen.  But they do not. They go up in disobedience and are defeated.  They weep and spend time at Kadesh.  The length of time is deliberately left non-specific – they simply spent the time there that they spent there.  It was a time lacking in purpose and direction because they had wilfully refused to listen to the voice of Yahweh.

     

    It challenges us in our obedience to God as he leads us.  When we hear God speak to us, do we listen and obey?  Or do we fear people more than we fear God?  Just as the Israelite judges were not to fear people when making judgements, so the Israelite people were not to fear their enemies when entering the land.

     

    Deuteronomy 2 – 3   On the way

     

    2:1-23  Now Moses describes their wanderings around Seir, until Yahweh directed with a similar phrase to 1:6 – this time with the description of their ‘wandering’ (rather than ‘staying’) long enough.  It is time for something new to begin: 40 years have passed and it is time for the new generation to enter their inheritance.  Moses’ reminder of this history stresses Israel’s peaceful intentions.  They were not out to attack the nations they passed through on the way to the land.

     

    V24-3:11  Then Moses reminds them of the defeat of Shihon and Og.  Before Israel are reminded of laws to keep, they need to be reminded of what God has done: of his care for them in the wilderness, and of his defeat of their enemies.  This pattern is followed in much of the Bible.  First, the reminders of what God has done for us, and then the instructions and encouragement on how we are to live in response (think of the book of Ephesians for a New Testament example).

     

    3:12-22 After their enemies had been defeated, the people began to possess the land – or at least some land east of the Jordan that some of the tribes of Israel had wanted as their own.  Numbers describes the detail of the story while here Moses focuses on the distribution of the territory as a foretaste of what Yahweh will do for the remaining tribes when they cross the Jordan.  The fighting men of the tribes who decided to settle east of the Jordan would be required to cross and help their countrymen.  You can read about how that happens in Joshua.  Joshua would lead the people in, and here the emphasis on Joshua’s leadership helps to demonstrate that he is Moses’ authorised successor.

     

    3:23-29  Moses, by contrast with the tribes who settled on the east, wants to enter the land, and he pleaded with Yahweh to be allowed to go into the land.  But Yahweh was angry with Moses. Again, Moses firmly places the blame on the Israelites – ‘because of you’ –  and was not allowed to go into the land.  Is Moses forgetting his own role in his exclusion from the land?  Is Yahweh being too hard on Moses?  As we read these words it reminds us that no-one is indispensable, not even Moses.

     

    It also reminds us that we don’t have the whole story.  We have the records of Moses’ actions and Yahweh’s response in Numbers, and these words in Deuteronomy.  We don’t have a record of Moses’ feelings when he struck the rock, or any idea of the pressures he faced.  Neither do we know the sins of his heart that caused him to anger Yahweh. In today’s world where every news story, every tale of celebrity or church leader falling demands an instant response on social media, it would do us good to remember that we don’t know all the details.

     

    In this story we can sense Moses’ disappointment, but we also see his ultimate acceptance of the way in which Yahweh dealt with him.  Sometimes we need to learn this too: even if events have not worked out how we might have hoped, God can still be at work to make use of the situation.  Sometimes our role might be like Moses, to help lead the people to the promised land, even if we do not get there ourselves.

    Deuteronomy 4 – 11   Call for total loyalty to Yahweh as he gives the Law at Sinai     

     

     

    Deuteronomy 4   A holy God

     

    4:1-8  Moses appeals to the Israelites to be loyal and obedient to Yahweh.  This loyal obedience will be their life (v1) and their wisdom (v6).  Following Yahweh’s ways and standards is the way to have real and true life.  The Israelites who stand before Moses have seen what Yahweh did to those who followed the Baal of Peor, the false gods of the Moabites and their ways (see Numbers).  They know that to leave Yahweh is to risk his anger.  But Moses reminds them that to follow Yahweh is the way of understanding and wisdom. Following Yahweh will lead them to show the nations around just how different Yahweh is to the other gods.  The nations around will see that Yahweh is a God who is near when his people call, and who gives statutes and laws that are so righteous for his people.

     

    V9-14  So, they are to take care and remember Horeb, which happened when the oldest of them would have been only children.  They are to remember when the whole nation stood as one to hear Yahweh speaking.  They did not see any form; they simply heard a voice speaking the covenant.

     

    V15-24  Because they saw no form, they are not to make any images of any created object to worship.  They are not to worship these images as separate gods or imagine that these images can somehow capture something of Yahweh to worship.  Neither are they to worship any created object.  Yahweh cannot be captured in an image – he is a consuming fire, a jealous God.

     

    That is not to say that worship of Yahweh must be dull and plain, as the tabernacle and the temple were ornate, with much rich symbolism.  Rather, it means that creation and created things must be servants that point to the worship of the one true God who cannot be seen or touched.  The only ‘image’ of Yahweh in the Old Testament is people, people who carry God’s image.  Creation is to be used, and creation is to be cared for, but creation is not to be worshipped.

     

    V25-31  If they do worship images in the land they are entering, Moses warns, Yahweh will scatter them away from their land.  Such threats were common in the covenants of the ANE, but here we read them as those who know the whole story.  We know that Israel did exactly what Moses warned them not to do, and that Yahweh did exactly what he threatened.  In that light, v29-31 is an encouragement to seek Yahweh, an encouragement to the Israelites of the exile to remember that Yahweh had not forgotten them.  In addition, it is an encouragement to us to remember that even when we sin, and even in the midst of the consequences of that sin, God has not forgotten us, and he can take and use us even from the midst of calamity.

     

    V32-40  As all good preachers do, Moses now engages his hearers with questions.  Had any other people ever heard God speak out of the fire as Israel did?  Had any God taken a nation for himself as Yahweh had done with Israel?  All this had been done that they might know that Yahweh alone is God – there is no other besides him.  When compared to gods of the rest of the ancient world, Yahweh stands out as a God who engages his people as a people.  Yahweh is not a God just for kings and for priests.  He is a God who speaks to the whole people, who creates ordinary human beings in his image.  He is a God who gives people dignity and value. He speaks.  He loves.  He chooses.  He is Yahweh, God in heaven above, and there is no other.  Therefore, he is to be obeyed and his laws are to be kept, because in them there is life.

     

    V41-49  The text apparently shifts gear, and Moses allocates cities of refuge, a system to avoid blood feuding, and we are reminded of all that we read in chapters 1-3.  It is a way of closing off the first section within the awareness of a God who guides and leads his people to their destination.  All the calls to obedience and law-keeping are firmly placed in the context of the God who leads and fights for his people.

     

     

    Deuteronomy 5   God’s good words

     

    5:1-33  Now we get to the high point of the Sinai revelation, to the moment when God spoke with Israel.  Moses deliberately stresses that, while the words were spoken to one generation, they apply to every generation – ‘all of us alive today’.  5:4-5 contain a fundamental paradox at the heart of the Sinai experience.  In 5:4 it sounds as if the people heard Yahweh directly.  In 5:5 it sounds as if Moses declared the words to them.  The same difficulty is found in Exodus 19-20 where it is again hard to tell how the people hear the ten commandments.  At what point does their terror at hearing God speak overcome them?  I wonder if God spoke the words to them and if some heard God’s voice, while others heard and saw the thunder and were terrified. In John’s gospel (John 12) there is an account of God speaking from heaven to Jesus, and of the different reactions of those who heard: some hear the voice, while others just hear thunder.  Maybe it was similar at Sinai.

     

    The ten commandments begin with the reminder that God has rescued them out of Egypt.  This is absolutely fundamental to the whole Bible, Old and New Testament alike.  Grace comes before Law.  Law guides living lives of grace.  When Law becomes a way to get grace then it becomes legalism.  Keep Law in its place as a guide to living lives of grace and love, and it gives life.  The Law does not regulate every area of life, rather it fences off dangerous places and creates a safe place to enjoy life in God’s land.

     

    In the first commandment, Yahweh demands total loyalty; no other gods.  Secondly, he demands that his people do not make images of him; no idols.  To make up gods is to provoke Yahweh to jealousy and has consequences beyond just the individual.  There is not much material in the rest of the Bible that would support the idea that in 5:10 God is saying that he will punish children because of their parents’ sin, rather he is saying that the consequences of sin (‘visiting sin’) can last a lifetime (down to the 4th generation).  By contrast, God’s steadfast love is to thousands who keep his covenant.  Mercy triumphs judgement because God finds a way to demonstrate his steadfast love to sinners.

     

    Thirdly, Yahweh demands that his name is treated and used with respect – we shouldn’t ‘lift it up to emptiness’. This commandment is much, much more than just ‘don’t swear’.  It is about every time we claim the name of Christ, but do not live up to that claim in our lives. To claim the name of Yahweh on us but to live in a way that does not honour that name is to be careless in our use of God’s name.

     

    The fourth commandment tells us to keep the Sabbath. God commanded one day in every seven to rest – and one year in seven to rest also.  The Sabbath is a day to remember that once they were slaves and could never rest; a day to remember God’s rescue.  A day to remember that life depends on God and not what we do.  How do we make sure we remember that we are not in control of our lives?  How can we mark Sabbath – a time of refreshment and rest where we do not need to be needed?

     

    The fifth commandment tells us to honour our father and mother.  Family matters – we must respect and honour our parents.  Then comes the commands that there must be no murder. Life is precious and everyone is made in the image of God, so life must not be taken deliberately.  There must be no adultery – marriage matters, and marriage is a one flesh union of man and woman for life.  Anything outside that is forbidden, and especially adultery because it destroys that one flesh union.

     

    There must be no stealing.  No false witness.  Integrity and respect for others.  No coveting what others have – including their spouses.

     

    These are the words that Yahweh spoke out of the fire, and out of thick darkness.  Perhaps we are to imagine a deep dark cloud with fire around the edges.  Perhaps we are to imagine and then realise that capturing what happens when God comes down on a mountain top is beyond imagining, beyond capturing.  The people saw and heard and pleaded with Moses to be the intermediary between them and God.

     

    For us this seems like the people are running scared.  That they are going to miss out.  But for them it is life preserving – and God says that they are right to be afraid.  The naked presence of God is too dangerous for sinful people to live with.  Even when God’s presence is represented by the Tent in their midst, there are laws upon laws to control access.  When we read that God is a consuming fire, we should think of the immense power and danger of a nuclear reactor.  It takes the death of Jesus to open a way for sinful humans to come fully into God’s presence.

     

    As we finish chapter 5 and read its final verses, we should remember that walking in the ways God commands is always the way to enjoy life with God in the places he promises for us.

     

     

    Deuteronomy 6   Love the LORD your God

     

    6:1-3  Here chapter 5 is summarised, and Israel are called to ‘hear’ and to ‘keep’.  These two Hebrew words run through the entire chapter; they sound very similar and go together.  Israel do not just hear to get knowledge, they do not hear so that they sound clever, they hear so that they would keep God’s commands, and so that they might ‘keep’ or guard themselves.  Moses reminds them that the words he has just spoken are the commandments, statutes and judgements of Yahweh, which are given so that Israel would be taught how to live in the land Yahweh is giving them.

     

    They are to fear Yahweh their God, and the way they show that they are rightly fearing God is by keeping his laws.  “Fearing God” is a phrase that sounds odd to us, but it is an attitude of reverence and respect for God which comes from a right realisation of who is, and in particular just how holy and good he is.  The evidence of having this right fear of God is that we do what he says.  We respect him, so we want to please him.

     

    It is in that context that Israel are called to be ‘careful to obey’.  This is another phrase that characterises this chapter.  It is a phrase that speaks to us today too. In our lives we are to take care, we are to be watchful, we are to think about what we do and how we live, and how that shows others Christ and the values he wants us to adopt.  If Israel stopped being careful then they would look just like the nations around.  If we are not careful, we will live exactly like everybody else, and there will be nothing distinctive to mark us out as belonging to Jesus.

     

    6:4-9  The next verses are key verses.  When Jesus was asked to name the most important commandment, these are the verses he cited.  They begin with a call once more to ‘hear’; to listen.  This is the most fundamental beginning point for any relationship, and particularly with a relationship with the living God.  Listening is about humility.  To listen we need to recognise that the most important thing I am doing in that moment is hearing what the other person has to say.  To recognise that we need to hear from God is to recognise the most important thing in any given situation.

     

    Then comes the content of what they are to listen to and do.  It begins with God: ‘Hear O Israel, Yahweh our God, Yahweh is one.’ Because of the way Hebrew works, you can see in many Bibles a number of other options to translate that phrase: Yahweh is our God, Yahweh alone; Yahweh our God is one Yahweh; Yahweh is our God, Yahweh is one.  Whichever option is finally argued for, the words convey the unity and uniqueness of Yahweh.

     

    This matters in the world of ancient Israel because every other nation believed in many gods, who required different things at different times.  Their gods had to be manipulated into doing what the worshippers required, and their gods even fought against each other.  Yahweh however was one and not many, and he was God alone.  That gives security because once you know what Yahweh wants, you can rely on him and trust him.  You know that he is the only God with power, so you don’t need to be afraid of other gods.

     

    In our world there are many ‘gods’.  There are many ways to follow, and people argue passionately about such things.  In such a world, we follow a God who is one, the only.  From a Christian perspective, there is nothing in these words to rule out trinity – that God is three in one – but these words stress the unity of God: in the relationships of the trinity, God is acting perfectly as one.  We know who we need to follow, and we know the way he calls us to go.

     

    Having established the uniqueness and oneness of Yahweh, Moses calls Israel to love Yahweh with all their heart, soul and ‘strength’ – the word used could literally be translated as ‘very muchness’.  It is often used to mean ‘exceedingly’, and here is used to convey absolutely everything that makes us strong and that we have.   Our hearts are, in Hebrew thought, the control centre of our beings – mind and emotion together.  Soul means life, that which energises us and gives us strength. There is nothing we have that we should not love God with.

     

    These words spoken are to be part of all of life – memorised internally and spoken about in family life.  These words are taken literally by orthodox Jews even today, and it may well be that some kind of literal interpretation for us is very helpful.  We can put reminders around the house of key commands and promises that help us and speak to us.  We can set reminders on our phones for key verses at specific times where we know temptation will come.  In family life, we should speak together about following Jesus.  In church life with Christian friends it should be natural to encourage each other in seeking God and what he wants for us.

     

    6:10-19  These words are another warning to take care and be careful to obey.  In particular, Israel are to be careful not to forget God when times are going well.  They are not to forget that they have all these good things because God is good and gives good gifts to his children. They are not to let wealth and comfort push God out.  This seems a very apt warning for those of us who do have relatively comfortable lives.

     

    If they do follow other gods then Yahweh will not let them keep the land.  The land belongs to God and God alone, and so it is to God and God alone that they must look, and him alone that they must follow.

     

    Deuteronomy 6:15 may well make us very uncomfortable, with its talk of a jealous God whose anger burns to destroy his people from the land.  Yet God’s anger is not arbitrary.  God does not lose his temper.  God’s jealousy is roused and his anger burns when his people worship other gods.  When Israel worshipped the idols of the nations around, they were worshipping gods who made no moral demands on their worshippers, but whose worship involved degrading and de-humanising practices such as shrine prostitution and human sacrifice.  The gods of the nations supported brutal regimes where violence was common and the poor utterly downtrodden.  When God saw his people worshipping such gods he was angry, not because he stopped being loving, but because he loved his people so much that to see them doing such things grieved his heart.

     

    6:20-25  The final section of the chapter begins with a child’s question – the children will ask ‘what are these laws and statutes that Yahweh commands’?  The parents’ answer is to begin with the rescue out of Egypt, and his gift of the land – and that Yahweh’s commands are given so that his people may enjoy life in the land in the way it was intended.  If the people are careful to do all the laws ‘before Yahweh’, then ‘righteousness will be ours’.  Notice the ‘before Yahweh’: it isn’t just a matter of keeping a set of laws, it is about doing them in relationship with Yahweh, in Yahweh’s presence.  The result of this law keeping will be that they are righteous – in a right standing before Yahweh.

     

    This isn’t about earning their way into Yahweh’s good books, it is rather a reminder that to enjoy life with Yahweh, in his place, enjoying his blessing, his people need to be following his ways.  ‘Doing Yahweh’s laws’ is about much more than simply following a set of rules – it is about listening and living by all that Yahweh has done for his people.

     

    For the Christian, we need to remember that we are called to holy lives, that being set free by Christ leads to a changed life.  We will never enjoy our relationship with God while we walk in darkness.  Instead we, like the Israelites, need to take care to follow all that God wants us to do.

     

     

    Deuteronomy 7   Not because of your numbers

     

    7:1-6  Now we come to some of the verses that are the most difficult to hear in the book of Deuteronomy.  Verses that have, in history, been used to justify the taking of land from, and killing of, native Americans, native Africans and Irish Catholics.  Yet before reacting to the verses, before removing them from our bibles in horror, and before jettisoning the Old Testament as some would prefer us to do, we should read carefully and listen in context to what is actually being said.

     

    Firstly, the land is Yahweh’s, and he is the one bringing them into the land.  There are nations there already, and Yahweh is removing them.  The Israelites will defeat (“strike”) them, and then they must “utterly destroy them” – the verb used here is “haram” which means to hand someone or something irrevocably over to Yahweh, (for an Israelite) usually by completely destroying the person or thing – and the verb here is emphasised by repeating it.  Then follow further instructions for the Israelites: they are to make no covenant with them, and they are to show them no mercy.  They are not to intermarry with them, and they are to destroy their idols.

     

    Several things need to be said here.  We shouldn’t assume that “irrevocably hand over to Yahweh” means “kill every single Canaanite you meet”. When we read through Deuteronomy 7, there is clearly an expectation that Israelites and Canaanites will both be in the land for a while.  There is a clear command that they are not to intermarry.  There is a sense in a number of texts dealing with the conquest that sometimes the Canaanites will be dispossessed of their land, not totally destroyed.

     

    What we have here is a piling up of language to illustrate just how much Israel are to avoid intermingling their following of Yahweh with Canaanite religious practices.  Israel are a nation holy to Yahweh, chosen to be his treasured possession.  They are therefore not to be like other nations around.  That is why Yahweh will drive out the nations before them – so that the Israelites will avoid their idolatrous and sinful practices.  In Genesis 15, Abraham is told that the ‘sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure’, with the implication that at the end of the 400 years of slavery in Egypt, it will have done.

     

    It is important to read Joshua attentively to see the distinction made within the Canaanites and within even Israel by Yahweh, which all depends on a response of obedient trust to him.  Canaanites can become Israelites – and Israelites can become Canaanites (Joshua 7).  Indeed, eventually Jeremiah 25:9 will talk about Babylon bringing herem upon Israel.  When Babylon brings herem upon Israel, it dispossesses Israel of the land and destroys the Temple as a place of worship – but does not kill every Israelite.

     

    It is also important to see that Israel are never told to repeat the conquest.  There is something once and for all about the story that is anticipated in Deuteronomy and told in Joshua.  When the return from exile is talked about in the prophets there is no call to Israel to take military arms – by contrast it something Yahweh will do all by himself.  The call to complete obedience, to the destruction of all idolatry, is something that becomes a call to pure religion, to worship of the one true God.  To the destruction of places of idol worship yes, but not to the execution of other nations.

     

    V7-11 The next section gives more motivations to obedience. Moses reminds Israel that Yahweh did not ‘set his affection’ on Israel and choose her because she was large and numerous.  The word for ‘set his affection’ here is to do with desire and love, sometimes used of a husband desiring a wife.  The reason Yahweh desired Israel is found in v8: ‘It was because Yahweh loved you’.  Why did Yahweh love Israel? Because Yahweh loved Israel.  There is no reason in Israel, the only reason is found in Yahweh.

     

    This is true for the Christian too – why should I be loved by God? Because he loves me.  He loves us because he loves us.  Think how fundamentally freeing this is.  He doesn’t love because of any gifts, qualities or character that I bring, and that I then have to work to maintain.  No, he loves because he loves.

     

    Then Israel are reminded that Yahweh is the one who rescued them out of Egypt. He is the faithful God who keeps covenant love to those who love him and keep his commandments for 1000 generations, but who repays in their own person those who reject him.  God’s faithful love is stressed, as is the seriousness of rebellion for those who choose not to find refuge in that faithful love.

     

    V12-16  If they keep covenant with Yahweh then he will keep covenant with them. He will uphold them. He will give them success and plenty in the land.  We have to be a little cautious applying this directly. These promises go with the reality that Israel was a nation in a land.  At that point in the history of God’s people, God’s people received God’s promise in the land and living God’s way in the land meant that the nation as a whole prospered.  By contrast, Christians are scattered throughout the nations. There is no direct link between obedience to Christ and material prosperity.  Indeed, we will often face difficulties and hardship for the sake of Christ.  But we will one day receive the new heavens and earth, the new creation that the land of Israel was a shadow of.  We do receive spiritual blessings now, and sometimes material blessings to use in God’s Kingdom, but we have no specific promises of material or physical well-being for now.

     

    V17-26  Moses then goes on to reassure the people that they should not be afraid of the large numbers against them.  Instead, they are to remember God’s work in the past, how he rescued them out of Egypt.  Only some of them would have physically seen the rescue, but nonetheless Moses speaks as if they had all seen it. Yahweh will act in the same way again, he will send plagues against the Canaanite nations and clear them away little by little.  Sometimes he will send them into a panic.  There will be a whole variety of ways by which Yahweh will help Israel win battles (see the books of Joshua and Judges).

     

    Israel’s part is to keep apart from all idolatry and to avoid being dragged down into the same patterns of sin and false religion that the Canaanites followed.

     

     

    Deuteronomy 8   Not because of your strength

     

    8:1-10  Israel are to be careful to obey so that they may occupy the land promised long ago.  They are to remember God’s leading through the wilderness, how God humbled them and tested them to make sure they would remember and obey his commands.  They are to remember the manna, which God had given one day at a time, with very specific instructions attached, so that they would know that people do not live by bread alone, but by ‘every word that comes from the mouth of Yahweh’.  The Hebrew text repeats ‘people live’ at the end so that the point is reinforced.  The manna sustained Israel, but it was manna given at God’s instructions, collected in accordance with God’s instructions and distributed in accordance with God’s instructions.

     

    Not only were Israel nourished by God’s word through the wilderness, but they were clothed (the clothes lasted 40 years) and protected (their feet did not blister).  Yahweh disciplined them as a parent their child, so they should obey him and fear him.  They are about to enter a good and fruitful land.  To enjoy that land as it was meant to be enjoyed they are to fear Yahweh and walk in his ways.

     

    8:11-20  So take care, is the warning to Israel.  When they get to this good land they are not to forget Yahweh.  They will have plenty, and they are not to allow all the good things they have to make them proud.  They are not to say that it is their strength that has done all this – because to do that would be to forget that it is Yahweh who gives strength.  If they do forget, then like the nations before them, they will not stay in the land.

     

     

    9:1 – 10:11   Not because of your righteousness

     

    Having been reminded that Yahweh has not chosen and loved them because of their greatness in size or strength, Israel are next reminded that they are not chosen because of their righteousness.

     

    9:1-6  Israel will be able to defeat these great nations in the land because Yahweh goes before them.  But seeing this victory happen should not make Israel self-congratulatory.  Yahweh is not giving them the land because of their righteousness.  Yahweh is driving out the nations because the nations are wicked, and because he is fulfilling the promise.

     

    9:7-10:11  In order to reinforce the point about Israel’s lack of righteousness, Moses reminds them of the golden calf – possibly the low point in Israel’s history.  A fuller account is found in Exodus 32-34 and there are some difficulties with reconciling the two accounts.  It is probably best to see Exodus 32-34 as providing the framework of events, and Deuteronomy 9-10 as a Moses’ perspective on the events, with particular aspects of the episode brought out to make the points he wants to impress on the Israelites at this point – even if it means that sometimes the order is slightly different to the Exodus account.

     

    They are not to forget how they provoked Yahweh to anger in the wilderness, and ‘even at Horeb’: even straight after they had received the ten commandments they were rebellious and Yahweh threatened to destroy them and start afresh with Moses.  Israel at that point had built a golden calf and worshipped it – breaking at least two of the commandments.  Moses also brings up their sin when they refused to enter the land and speaks of his intercession for the people – again by bringing up the two times he had to intercede for the people’s survival together.

     

    Moses’ intercession reinforces the point that the people do not have anything in themselves that gives them a claim to the land. Moses’ intercession is on the basis of Yahweh’s reputation, Yahweh’s promise, and Yahweh’s love.  If he doesn’t bring the people to the land, people might doubt God’s power – they might say ‘he was not able’ – or his goodness  – they might say ‘he hated them (v23).  If he doesn’t bring them into the land, he is breaking the promise to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and if he doesn’t bring them into the land he will be mistreating his treasured possession.

     

    Moses’ intercession won God round.  It is a hard passage to wrap our brains around.  It confounds our different ways of understanding how God and people relate.  I think we should avoid two common ways of thinking about these sort of events.  The first is that God was making it up as he went along because he doesn’t know the future.  Elsewhere, the Bible is very clear that God is the God who knows the end from the beginning, who knows what is going to happen and can declare it.  In Isaiah 40-55 this is one of the marks of God being God.  The other error is to say that God just pretends to be ready to destroy Israel, that Moses’ intercession is all part of a game that God is playing to demonstrate his sovereign control of every detail of the scenario.

     

    No, God’s anger is real, and the need for Moses to intercede is real.  If Moses had not interceded, God would have wiped out the people.  Moses’ prayers have a real impact.  But those prayers are invited by God who announces his intentions to Moses.  God draws people into relationship with him, and gives us the dignity of being able to cause events by our prayers.  Prayer matters, and as the old song puts it, ‘prayer changes things’.  Without our prayers, God may not act.  As James puts it, ‘you do not have because you do not ask’.

     

     

    10:12 – 11:31   Love Yahweh your God

     

    10:12-22  Having been reminded that they are not loved by God because of their numerical strength, their abilities or even their righteousness, Israel are now called to fear Yahweh, to walk in his ways, to love him, and to serve him with all their heart and soul, keeping Yahweh’s commandments and statutes.  Moses is commanding the commandments to them this day for their good (v13).  It is important to read and meditate on these verses and to see Yahweh’s motivation for giving these commands.  These commands are for our good.  They show us how life works best.

     

    Yahweh is the God of the whole earth (v14), he is in charge of everything and he knows what is best for us.  He chose Israel, and Moses now appeals to them to ‘circumcise their hearts’ and to not be ‘stiff-necked anymore’.  Their physical circumcision was a sign of devotion to Yahweh, but they now needed to make that outward sign an inward reality.  They needed to recognise the sin of the golden calf and turn away from all such sins to seek after Yahweh.

     

    Moses reminds them that Yahweh is supreme – God of gods, and Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, the awesome (literally ‘awe-inspiring’) God.  There is no-one higher, there is no-one greater.  So he demands total obedience and loyalty.  He is a God who shows no favourites and takes no bribes, a God who upholds the widow and the orphan, and who befriends the stranger.  So God’s people must befriend the stranger too – remembering that they were strangers in Egypt.

     

    Pause for a moment and reflect on this connection.  Because Yahweh is supreme over all, and because Yahweh does not play favourites, and because Yahweh can’t be corrupted, God’s people must be people of justice and concern for the poor, and particularly for the stranger.  Churches should be places where the stranger can find a welcome, where the poor are supported and where those without family find a family.  When we do this we will reflect God’s character to a world that needs all these things so desperately.

     

    The call continues: ‘Fear Yahweh, worship only him, hold fast to him, and swear by his name’ – once more the need for total loyalty is stressed, and once more backed up by an appeal to God’s character and his deeds for Israel.  Yahweh is their glory and their God, the one who rescued them out of Egypt, having made them into a great nation in Egypt.  All that Israel has is found in God.

     

    11:1-7  Moses’ appeal to Israel reaches something of a crescendo in this chapter, as he once more calls on them to love Yahweh, keep his rules and remember his rescue.  Once more he identifies the generation who will enter the land with the generation who left Egypt – despite the 40 years in-between.  The key distinctive is that at least some of those now about to enter the land did see the rescue out of Egypt – they were children watching Yahweh’s work.  Their children do not know – the older adults standing before Moses on the plains of Moab are the last eyes that saw the parting of the Red Sea, the plagues of Egypt and Yahweh descending on Sinai. It is vital that this generation sets the tone for Israel.

     

    11:8-17  They are entering a land where they need to be careful to stay loyal to Yahweh.  It is a different sort of land to Egypt.  Egypt was watered by the Nile: each year the Nile flooded and crops were grown on the floodplain.  It was regular, ordered and controlled – and hard work.  Canaan is reliant on the rains, the harvest is dependent on the weather, so while hard work is vital, so are the unpredictable forces of nature.  The nations of Canaan had worked out systems of religion, worshipping gods of nature and fertility.  Yahweh warns Israel they are not to do that – but instead are to remain loyal to him.  If they do, he will provide the rain they need to survive.

     

    11:18-25  The final appeal by Moses commences – if the Israelites fully keep (the word ‘keep’ is emphasised here) all this instruction given to them by loving Yahweh, by walking in his ways, and by holding fast to him then they will enjoy Yahweh’s blessings.  These words are reminders for us too.  We are to keep God’s instructions.  In particular, we do this by loving Jesus, walking in Jesus’ ways and holding fast to Jesus.

     

    11:26-32 The final part of the first section of the book is developed later in the book – but it sets out that God has set before them ‘a blessing and a curse’.  When they enter the land they will proclaim these blessings and curses from two mountains – making visible the choice before them.

     

    Deuteronomy 12 – 26   Law for life

     

    Now the tone of Deuteronomy changes.  Rather than a sustained exhortation for loyalty to Yahweh, we get more detailed rules.  These have some similarities, and some differences to those in Leviticus.  Some of the differences can be explained in terms of needing to reframe these laws for a generation that are actually about to enter the land.  The differences also show us that we shouldn’t think of these laws as covering every single detail of life – rather they are case laws that show the principles of how to govern.  Individual cases could then be determined on the basis of the principles set out in the laws.  In addition, some of the laws deliberately use vocabulary that reminds the Israelites of the reminders Moses has given them of the work Yahweh has done for them, and the loyalty they are to show Yahweh in chapters 1-11.


    Deuteronomy 12:1 – 28   Worship where God commands

     

    This section is framed by the familiar command to be careful to hear all these words (12:1, 28).  The main section commands Israel to destroy the places of idol worship in the land, and obliterate the names of other gods.  It then makes clear that there is only one place where Israel should make sacrifices to Yahweh.  Israel are not to turn pagan sanctuaries into places of Yahweh-worship, rather they are to set up one sanctuary at the place Yahweh will choose.

     

    A key point to notice in regard to this place is that Deuteronomy does not name the place.  The most important thing for Moses is not the place, but the fact that Yahweh will choose the place where Yahweh dwells and where his name resides.  The place will not be important in and of itself, but only in so far as Yahweh chooses it.

     

    In Joshua this becomes Shiloh, where the tabernacle is set up, and in 2 Samuel David establishes the ark in Jerusalem.  However, throughout Israel’s history this command to only worship Yahweh in one place is frequently ignored – sometimes in an obviously sinful way, but other times in ways that do not seem blameworthy.  Samuel offers sacrifices in Bethlehem, and has his base at Ramah.  One answer to this is that it reflects the downward spiral of the Judges period.   As peace fractured in Israel this command become more and more neglected, and it wasn’t until the relative peace of the monarchy that the ideal could be re-established.  One of the most common complaints by the author of the books of 1 and 2 Kings is that even some of the better kings of Judah allowed worship to go on at the high places.

     

    Deuteronomy 12:29 – 13:19   Test prophets

    This section is a clear warning to not to worship idols, and in particular not to be impressed by prophets who can do impressive signs and make true predictions.  Even if they do these things but worship other gods, they are not to be followed, and indeed he should be put to death.  The people are to remain loyal only to Yahweh.  They are not to worship other gods.

     

    This is a repeated theme in the Bible. Jesus warns of those who will come performing signs and wonders, but will be false.  There is evil supernatural power as well as good.  We know that the devil is defeated, but we also know that his power is real and includes deception.  We are not to be gullible Christians, believing every impressive sounding story we hear, and believing things that the Bible does not teach just because the people preaching them do miracles.

     

    In Deuteronomy the punishment for idolatry is stark. It is death, and in fact any Israelite towns or cities that worship false gods come under the same fate as the Canaanites before them – to be utterly destroyed.

     

    While this is gruesome, it is also shows that the conquest is not about giving one particular race or nation a land to the exclusion of all others, rather it is about giving a people a chance to live on the earth as God originally intended and show him to the nations.  Part of that demonstration means that those from outside can enter Israel, but equally that those in Israel who become non-Israel can face herem.

     

    This is because, as we have seen before in Deuteronomy, Yahweh is the people’s life.  It is him they are to serve, him they are to worship, he who gives life in the land.  To follow idols is to walk into the ways of death.  They must not go there and so they are warned strongly against following the ways of the idols of the nations.   Lest we forget, those other nations’ ways were not pleasant, peace-loving and innocent but involved child sacrifice, shrine prostitution, oppression of the poor, the widow and women.  God loves his people too much to allow them to go that way.

     

    Deuteronomy 14:1 – 29   Eating and drinking

     

    Next comes a reminder of the laws about clean and unclean food, and not boiling a kid goat in its mother’s milk.  I have no idea what it is so wrong about this, but neither does anyone else – or rather, lots of people have lots of different ideas!

     

    Then there are instructions for tithes.  These are rather different from what we normally expect in regard to tithes.  Israelites were to set aside one tenth of all that they owned in order to have a large celebration at the place God would choose for worship.   Notice v26 – they are to spend it on food, drink, wine, or other alcoholic beverages – whatever their heart desires and they are to feast before Yahweh and rejoice in Yahweh and in his blessings and goodness.

     

    Perhaps when we think of tithing we should think of setting some money for good causes, and some for celebration.  These verses remind us that Yahweh was not confined to some kind of religious box, but was involved in all of life, and wanted to rejoice with his people.  In addition, every 3 years they were to make sure that the Levites did not get left out of this celebration.

     

    Deuteronomy 15   Looking out for the poor

     

    15:1-3  Here the Israelites are commanded to release what has been lent to their neighbour every seventh year.   Debts were not allowed to pile up.  Elsewhere in the Bible (Leviticus), the 50th year is mentioned as a year of Jubilee when all debts were cancelled and slaves set free.  It isn’t fully clear how the two sets of laws relate to each other – perhaps it is to do with different types or levels of debt released at 7 years, and at 50.  It is clear, however, that God did not want his people to become indebted to each other so that they could not enjoy life in his land.

     

    15:4-11  Verse 4 is striking – is God really saying that there will be no poor among them?  V11 contradicts v4: ‘there will always be poor among you’.   How do we resolve this contradiction?  The answer is found in reading the context carefully.  Verse 5 makes clear that the statement ‘there will be no poor among you’ is true if they obey Yahweh fully, and keep his commands.  When they do that, they will be so wealthy that they will lend to many and rule over many.   However, if they don’t, then they won’t, and there will still be poor among them.

     

    If there are poor among them (v7), they are to be generous – not using the excuse that the seventh year is coming and you won’t get all your money back, but freely giving to the poor in the land.

     

    15:12-18  Likewise, they were to be generous when releasing a slave.  They were to make sure that the slave had all they needed – the slave might well have become a slave because they were in debt, and so they would need a fresh start.  As they did so, they were to trust that Yahweh would provide all they needed.

     

    While it is true to say that the laws Israel had to obey won’t be laws that govern how our nation today should operate, because our nations today are not God’s people in the same sense as Israel, it is true that God’s people today, the Church, should have the same spirit of generosity towards the poor as Israel were commanded to have.  We see this happen in the book of Acts, where the first Christians shared all their property with those who had need.

     

    15:19-23  The firstborn of the Israelite flocks belonged to Yahweh.  Perhaps this is a way of reminding them, and us, that the whole world belongs to Yahweh, and everything is his.

     

    Deuteronomy 16   Remember and celebrate

     

    16:1-8  This chapter concerns various festivals that Israel was required to celebrate at the place that Yahweh would choose.  The first of these was the Passover festival – the celebration of the Exodus out of Egypt.  They were to begin with the Passover sacrifice, eat unleavened bread for seven days, and at the end of it gather together in a solemn assembly.  All of this was to remember that they were slaves in Egypt and that Yahweh brought them out of Egypt. Always they were to remember that everything they were and had was thanks to Yahweh’s actions in saving them.

     

    16:9-12  Seven weeks after the first of the harvest they were to hold another festival to Yahweh.  This was to celebrate the initial harvest, and again to remember that they were slaves in Egypt.  Once more, they were to gather together at the place God would choose.

     

    16:13-17  Finally, they were to celebrate the Feast of Booths for seven days after the final harvest.  Once more, they were to come together at the place God would choose, and once more they were to celebrate together.  This time, the focus was on the current blessings that Yahweh had given them in the land.

     

    Three times each year they were to assemble before Yahweh, in his presence, each time with a gift related to Yahweh’s blessing of them.   Thus in all of the year they were to remember God’s past rescue and thank him for current blessings.  All of life comes from Yahweh, and belongs to him.  They were to remember not just in a ‘solemn assembly’ at the Passover, but in the following two festivals also by rejoicing before Yahweh.  Yahweh loves to see his people rejoice.

     

    Deuteronomy 16:18 – 17:20   Right leadership

     

    16:18-20  Israel was to appoint judges and officials in all their towns to ensure that law-keeping was done with true justice.  They were not to pervert justice, show favouritism or accept a bribe.  They were to pursue justice, for that would enable them to have life in the land Yahweh was giving them.

     

    16:22 There was to be no idolatry of any kind.

     

    17:1 There was to be no sacrificing with any blemished animals – Yahweh would not be satisfied with any sort of sacrifice that is in fact no sacrifice at all, because the animal was worthless in any case.

     

    Yahweh was to be worshipped, and Yahweh alone, with the best that the worshipper could bring.  That is the background to 17:2-7.  Here the death penalty is given for the worship of idols, with the witnesses who brought the charges being the first one to cast the stones.  The death sentence needed more than one witness, and there had to be careful enquiries.  This wasn’t supposed a way to settle old scores, rather it was a process carried out with the greatest of care.  In this way the evil of idolatry would be purged from the people.

     

    Christians today are not a nation state, and the New Testament does not mandate the death penalty.  But in 1 Corinthians 5, Paul speaks of how the Corinthians need to put one of the members of the fellowship out of their fellowship because of his serious sexual sin – and he does it with the words ‘you must purge the evil from among you’ (1 Cor 5:13).  The church is to be a community in which there is discipline – serious offenders are to be dealt with.

     

    17:8-13  Justice must be done.  No-one is to take justice into their own hands, rather all must accept the words of the judge and the priest in their verdicts.  There are to be no vigilantes in Israel, and those who reject the authority of the Law over them are to be punished.

     

    17:14-20  These rules are possibly some of the most radical ever recorded.  Other law codes in the middle east do not include laws limiting the king’s own personal wealth and riches, or constraining his ability to build up a large harem.  The law anticipates a time (which happens in 1 Samuel 8) when the Israelites will come to Yahweh and ask for a king like the other nations have.  In this chapter that seems a relatively neutral request, but in 1 Samuel 8 it is presented as a choice that is rebellious against Yahweh’s rule.  While the request may not be directly criticised here, it is striking how it is reframed in v15.  The Israelites may well ask for a king ‘like other nations’, but the king they are to have must be the one that Yahweh chooses.

     

    The king must be an Israelite, a ‘brother’ of the people – an Israelite king is one of the people, not (like the nations around) a semi-divine being using the people. The king is not to gather many horses for himself – the king is not supposed to have his own private army, and he isn’t to send the people back to Egypt to get the horses.  Yahweh has already told the people not to go back to Egypt and the king is not to send his people back to Egypt.  Going back to Egypt represents going back to the life they had before Yahweh rescued them, and the choice to look to Egypt for help is always represented as a turning away from Yahweh in the books of the prophets.

     

    The king is not to accumulate many wives, for they might lead him astray.  In the ancient near east, rulers often made treaties that involved marriage as a way of cementing the alliance, which might well involve worship of foreign gods as a way of respecting the nation which they had made an alliance with.  Israelite rulers were not to do that, and neither were they to get lots of silver and gold.  Reading this passage next to the account of Solomon’s reign in 1 Kings suggests that Israel’s kings did not take long to ignore many of these rules.

     

    Instead the king was to write for himself a copy of ‘this law’ – perhaps the book of Deuteronomy is meant by this, or perhaps even more of what we now know as the Torah, the first five books of the Bible.  The king is to continually read it, to learn to fear Yahweh, and to do all that the Law says – rather than ‘lording it over’ his fellow Israelites.

     

    Notice just how radical a manifesto this is for political leadership in any age.  The king is simply one of the people.  The king is not on an extra level up from the nation.  The king does not have the right to do whatever he wants.  He is under the Law; he doesn’t make the Law.  Today God’s people are not a nation who have kings, but we do still have leaders – who are also told not to lord it over their flock, but to shepherd them humbly.  Leaders are not above the Law.  Leaders are not to use their position for personal gain.  Leaders are to be part of the people, not on a pedestal above the people.

     

    Deuteronomy 18   Listen to God’s voice – no magic

     

    18:1-8  The Levites did not get an inheritance of land, instead they were priests for Israel, and they were to get a share of the offerings brought by the people.  The Levites ministered in the name of Yahweh and so they were to receive a share in the wealth of the people.  Paul contends for the right of Christian ministers to receive support from their congregation on a similar principle in 1 Corinthians 9.

     

    18:9-14  Israel was not to practice divination or soothsaying.  These were efforts to tell the future by interpreting different kinds of omens.  They were also not to try to contact the dead.  None of these things were allowed for Israel – they were some of the things that inhabitants of the land had done to worship their gods and arrange their societies.  Israel were to be different – they were to be undivided in their allegiance to Yahweh, and trust him to know the future, without them having to.

     

    18:15-22  Rather than divination, the Israelites would hear from Yahweh by means of his prophet.  Yahweh would send Israel a prophet like Moses, and they were to listen to him.  Initially this was fulfilled in a line of people who spoke God’s words: Samuel (see 1 Sam 3:1-4:1), Elijah, Elisha, and the prophets whose writings we have.  Finally, Jesus came, speaking Yahweh’s words with full authority.  Israel were to listen to this line of prophets.

     

    But they were not simply to swallow any claim to be a prophet uncritically.  They needed to test the prophets.  If a prophet makes a claim about the future and it does not happen then they do not need to follow that prophet.

     

    Together with chapter 13 this gives Israel a two-pronged approach to testing the prophets:

     

    Test 1: Does the prophet encourage us to worship Yahweh alone?  If the prophet does not, they are a false prophet

    Test 2: Does what the prophet say come true?  If not, then again, they are a false prophet.

     

    Notice that these are negative tests – a false prophet could make true predictions, or he might make false predictions in the name of the true God.  Both tests are needed.

     

    Today we have the words of the prophets, and of Jesus, and his messengers written down for us.  Through them God speaks to us definitively – we are to listen to what they say and put it into practice.  At Pentecost God gave his Spirit to all believers, so that all might, to some degree, prophesy.  He also calls us to test the spirits, and to test prophecy.  Like the Israelites we are not to be gullible.  We are to ask if the prophet’s words draw us towards Jesus.  If the prophet makes claims about the future that do not come true, we should treat their claims with suspicion.  We certainly do not need to fear those who claim to speak for Yahweh – instead we are to trust Yahweh.

     

    Deuteronomy 19 – 26

     

    In this section of Deuteronomy there are an assortment of laws that can seem slightly randomly organised, obscure or even harsh to us.  As we read them, we need to avoid either writing them off as for another day, or trying to slavishly follow/keep either some or all of them.  Instead we need to look at the principles behind the laws, and see how the ideas behind those laws are adapted or developed in the New Testament.

     

    Rather than detailed commentary on each law (check out the Deuteronomy commentaries by Chris Wright or Gordon McConville for more detail), I’ve given an outline of the laws and noted anything especially interesting.

     

     

     

    Chapter 19   Laws about justice

     

    19:1-13  Cities of Refuge – defending the innocent, punishing the guilty – ‘purging the evil from among you’ (1 Cor 5:13). Working out how to do this well.

     

    19:14  Boundary stone.

     

    19:15-21  False witness – a different context for ‘an eye for an eye’.

     

    Deuteronomy 20   Laws about warfare

     

    20:1-9  Yahweh fights for Israel, so the size of Israel’s army is irrelevant and they can afford to not conscript everyone.  Make a note of people who were allowed not to fight, and think why they might have been let off.

     

    20:10-15  Cities outside the land – offer peace.

     

    20:16-18  Completely destroy cities in the land (see comments on chapter 7 for more discussion around this issue).

     

    20:19-20  Don’t cut down fruit trees (that would be stupid, because you can eat their fruit).

     

    Deuteronomy 21

    21:1-9  Atonement for an unknown murderer.  Every sin impacted the life of the nation, and so every sin, even when the sinner was known only to God, needed to be dealt with.

     

    21:10-14  Marrying a captive woman – while this sounds harsh to us, it does emphasis that the captive has to be treated as a human being, not simply property.

     

    21:15-17  Firstborns are firstborns, even if not born to the loved woman.  This is a law that regulates the impact of polygamy, which was permitted but not encouraged.

     

    21:18-21  Dealing with rebellious children – not merely naughty children, but those who as adults stubbornly refuse to respect their elders.

     

    21:22-23  Don’t leave a body hanging on a tree overnight – anyone left hanging on a tree is under a curse.  Read Galatians 3:13 to see an important New Testament reference to this verse.

     

    Deuteronomy 22:1 – 23:14   Property and boundaries

     

    Here we have more laws about making sure that people take care of property that belongs to others.  In addition, there are a number of laws that seem to relate to making sure that the boundaries of various sorts are maintained.  Then there are a number of laws talking about punishment for sexual immorality and rape.  The exact laws governing these things may well seem harsh or brutal to us.  We should remember that the world around was even more brutal, and that these rules brought at least some kind of order.  When Jesus discusses the divorce laws, he says ‘Moses commanded these things because your hearts were hard, but in the beginning, it was not so’ (Matthew 19:8).

     

    In other words, we need to go back to creation to see God’s original design, look to Israel’s laws to see how God regulated the behaviour of sinful people, look to the New Testament teaching to see God’s commands for his people to live out in the power of the Spirit and look forward to the new creation to see what will eventually be.  We see the Old Testament laws as part of a trajectory of God’s redemption in history – and in history God starts with where people are, not where we think they should be.

     

    An important selection of laws excluding certain people come in 23:1-8, and again it is interesting to reflect on how these laws are not as absolute as we might first think.  Eunuchs are forbidden from entering God’s people.  But then in Isaiah 56 eunuchs are included – and in Acts 8 one who could well have been a eunuch is baptised.

     

    No-one of a ‘forbidden marriage’ or of adultery can be included and no Moabite or Ammonite – down to the 10th generation.  It sounds very exclusionary.  But turn over a few pages in your Bible to the book of Ruth which contains the story of Ruth, the Moabitess, who became an ancestor of David.  Ruth, Rahab and Tamar, along with Bathsheba, are all mentioned in Jesus genealogy.  Perhaps it indicates that when there is faith in Israel’s God there is flexibility, and perhaps that Jesus comes to break through boundaries and divisions.

     

    Deuteronomy 23:9-14 again can seem very alien, but essentially seems to say that what comes out of the Israelites’ bodies is not clean, and makes the camp defiled.

     

    Deuteronomy 23:15 – 25:19   Miscellaneous laws

     

    As you read these laws, keep on asking: what is the principle behind each of these?  What about God’s character does it point to?  What difference does Jesus’ coming make to these?

     

    Some of the laws seem sensible and straightforward.  No Israelite was to be a temple prostitute (23:18-19) – ancient religions often used sex as part of the worship ritual, but for Israel, God did not want to be worshipped in that way.  Sex was part of the marriage covenant, not part of a fertility ritual, and not something to be used to enslave people.

     

    They were not to impose interest on loans to fellow Israelites – lending money was to be about generosity and support, not making a profit.  Those who made vows had to keep them.  23:25-26 are laws which highlight that landowners are not to be stingy about their crops, and that those passing by are not to take advantage of them.  It was allowed to eat grapes off a vine in a field you were walking through – but not to fill a basket.

     

    24:1-4  These are laws regulating divorce.  Divorce was permitted, but the two divorced parties could not remarry each other.  Divorce was not to be treated lightly.  Jesus comments on these verses in Matthew 19, reminding his hearers that originally God’s design was for one man and one woman to marry for life.  Divorce is a sad reality of life in a fallen world – but God’s laws here provide for protection and regulation of that sad reality for Israel at that time.  In the New Testament, divorce is permitted in certain cases where the marriage covenant has been violated in particular ways, but God’s ideal for people is for one man to be married to one woman for life.

     

    The rest of chapter 24 contains laws reflecting God’s concern for the poor, while chapter 25 focuses on protection and provision for the family name to be continued, along with a reminder of the need to use honest weights: those who buy and sell should do so honestly.  Chapter 25 concludes with a warning against Amalek, who attacked Israel and tried to pick off the weakest of them.  Israel are to blot out the Amalekites – and Saul will later lose his kingship for refusing to play his part in this.  Right at the end of the Old Testament story, the book of Esther tells the story of Haman, a descendent of the Amalekites, who desires to wipe out the Israelites but is thwarted by a descendant of Saul, Mordecai. Amalek stands for all of those who would oppress the weak and the poor, and Israel are not to have anything to do with such oppression.

     

    Deuteronomy 26   Firstfruits and tithes

    The firstfruits of the produce of the land was to belong to God, and was to be given to God.  As they did this, each worshipper would recite the words of Deuteronomy 26:5-10 to remind them of what God had done for them.  A tenth of their produce was to be given to the Levites, and to the poor in the land.  When the people do this, they affirm that Yahweh is indeed their God who has rescued them as his treasured possession and that they are committed to following him and doing all that he says.

     

    While the precise amount of the tithe may not be binding on Christians today, it is still important to make sure that we give some of our income specifically to God’s work.  It is a sign that we are trusting in God to provide for us and that we are willing to put all that we have at his disposal.

    Deuteronomy 27 – 28   Blessings and curses

     

    27:1-8  Moses and the elders issue instructions to ensure that the Law, together with the consequences for obedience and disobedience, are remembered when the people enter into the land.  Moses and the people are to build a large stone monument on Mount Ebal with the words of ‘this’ Law written on it.

     

    Next to the monument they are to build an altar of uncut stones, and they are to offer their offerings on the altar, and to rejoice before Yahweh their God.  On the stone monument all the words of this Law are to be written very plainly.  It is hard to imagine that all of Deuteronomy was to be written on the monument, but perhaps a summary such as the ten commandments is intended.  In Joshua 8:30-35 we read of the people carrying out these instructions, as part of the emphasis in the book of Joshua that Joshua obeyed all that God had commanded Moses.

     

    27:9-10  Then Moses and the priests announce that Israel are to keep silence, and listen to all that God commands.  They are to keep silence, hear, obey and keep the commandments.  ‘This day’ they have become the people of Yahweh their God.  There is a stress in these verses on the present moment.  Now is the time they are hearing God’s voice, now is the time they are called to obedience.  God has done plenty for them in the past, but now in the present moment they are to obey.

     

    27:11-26  Moses instructs the people – half will stand on Mount Gerazim to bless the blessing, and half on Mount Ebal for the curses.  Mt Ebal is where the Law stands, perhaps adding force to the curses for disobedience.  When both halves are in place, the Levites shall declare to the Israelites the deeds that bring God’s curse.

     

    The particular sins listed are illustrative of different acts that break God’s Law.  The sins listed seem related, although not identical, to the 10 commandments.   Idolatry, dishonouring parents, injustice, sexual sin (especially incest), murder and bribery all feature, followed by the summarising curse:  ‘cursed be anyone who does not confirm the words of this law by doing them’ (v26).

     

    28:1-14  The acts that bring a curse are followed by the attitudes and actions that bring blessing.  Faithful, careful obedience to God’s command will bring blessing to Israel’s life together in his land.

     

    28:15-68  The promise of blessing is followed by the threat of curse.  There is noticeably more emphasis placed here on the curses.  If they are not careful to obey God’s voice or keep his commands, then all these curses will come upon them.  All of life will be cursed.  Everything will go wrong in the land: defeat against their enemies; drought and famine; enemies will come and take them away into exile.

     

    In v45-48 we get the explanation for their trouble.  They did not obey Yahweh’s voice, or keep his commandments, and they did not serve him with joyfulness and gladness of heart because of (or even more than) the abundance of all things.  The implication is that the prosperity Israel enjoyed at times became their source of joy and gladness, rather than serving Yahweh.  It is a reminder that our greatest joy should be found in serving God – for he is the one who delights in doing good to us (v63).

     

    This section is then followed by a reiteration of the curses.  For, Moses, speaking for Yahweh, knows the hearts of the people and their tendency to sin.  He knows they need reminding of the consequences of their actions.  It is sobering to read v63 and see that there is a sense in which Yahweh delights to bring judgement.  Yahweh longs for his people to obey him, but if they do not, then he is also a God of justice and he will judge.  In that judgment he ‘delights’ or ‘exults’.  He is not a God who shows favour and partiality.  He is not biased.  He does what is right, and if his people take advantage of their position then his judgement must fall.  It is a sobering reality for us too.  We must not flinch from verses such as these.  God is a God of justice.  There is a day when his people rejoice over Babylon’s fall (Revelation 18), not in any glib sense, but because God’s justice means an end to injustice in his world.

     

    Deuteronomy 29 – 30   Covenant renewal

     

    29:1  Now the book of Deuteronomy moves towards the climax with a covenant made in Moab with the Israelites, which comes ‘besides’ that made at Sinai.  Whether we are to read this as an entirely new covenant, or as a kind of supplement or re-presentation of the Sinai covenant, is disputed.  It seems most likely that this is a new presentation of the old covenant for the new situation now that Israel have served their time of punishment and are poised to enter the land.

     

    29:2-9  Moses recounts the history of the people, their rescue from Egypt by Yahweh, and then the way in which Yahweh had sustained them as they walked through the desert.

     

    29:10-15  Now they stand together before Yahweh, the whole people, from greatest to least, to listen to God’s words and enter into the covenant for themselves.  It is a covenant made with the whole people, including the foreigner living among them (v11) and those yet to be born (v15).

     

    29:16-28  Once more a solemn warning against idolatry and against the ways of Egypt, because Israel have been rescued out of Egypt.  The call is once more to be careful, to be watchful as a people for each other – for a man, or a woman, or a clan or a tribe that are in danger of going after other gods (v18), or of being presumptuous and thinking that such warnings do not apply to them.  Not heeding the warnings to ‘take care’ will result in disaster coming on the land and the nations seeing how badly Israel had sinned.

     

    The final verse of the chapter seems to stand almost on its own, but perhaps acts as a warning and an encouragement.  Israel does not know, as we do not know, the ‘secret things’, but all that has been revealed by God is revealed for us, and for his people for ever so that we may do what he wants.  Obeying God is not easy, but it is, to a large degree, clear.  God has not deliberately hidden his will in obscurity, rather he has revealed how to live to us.  Often we want to know details about the future.  Which job should I do? Should I marry, and who?  God reveals to us how we should be living right now, and serving him in the situation we find ourselves.  As we do this, he may well give specific guidance on other things – but we need to first be committed to seeking to obey what he has told us.

     

    30:1-10  This section is an encouragement that, even when Israel has sinned and find themselves in exile, God will bring them back to himself.  If Israel turn back to God and return to obeying him, then God will bring them back to the land.  Not only that, but God will circumcise their hearts: he will bring about a change in their hearts and what their hearts desire.  It is this promise that Jeremiah takes up in Jeremiah 29, and that Jesus brings about with the ‘new covenant’ in his blood.  It is a promise that Christians can take great comfort from.  God is working to change our hearts so that we desire to do his will.

     

    30:11-20  Moses concludes by a rousing call to choose life.  God’s command is not too difficult, and it is not too far off.  It is right at hand, so that they can do it.  In Romans 10, Paul applies this to the message of faith that he proclaims.  At first sight this seems a stretch.  It sounds like Paul is contrasting faith with the law of Deuteronomy.  But Paul’s meaning and Moses’ may be closer than we think.

    For both, the contrast is between something that is difficult and far off.  For Moses, it was the way that the nations around were enslaved by their gods, so that they never knew what their gods required.  For Paul, it was the idea of his opponents that people needed to obey every detail of the Law to know they were right with God.  For both, the answer is to turn back to serving the LORD, to worship him alone.  The faith Paul speaks about is at the heart of the attitude that Deuteronomy requires.  The problem in Paul’s day is that people thought the attitude Deuteronomy requires is gained by obedience – but Paul sees that the issue is that the people do not have circumcised hearts. Circumcised hearts come only through the blood of the new covenant.  For both Paul and Moses, God’s call is to worship him alone, and from that all else flows.  That worship of God alone contrasts with the complex rituals we make up and call religion.

     

    So, heaven and earth are called as witnesses to the covenant, and God’s people are called to faithful obedience and total loyalty to him (‘hold fast to him’), because ‘he is your life’.  Yahweh is Israel’s life, Israel’s hope, Israel’s life-giver.  He is our life; our life-giver.  The question is: will we trust him and know him at work in us, or will we think we can make up the way to life on our own?

     

    Deuteronomy 31 – 34   The death of Moses

     

     

    Deuteronomy 31   Commissioning a new leader

     

    31:1-13  Moses now explains to the people that he is too old to lead them anymore.  He will not cross the Jordan.  Yahweh will go before them, and so the people are to be strong and courageous.  They are to remember that Yahweh their God is with them.  Then Moses gives the same command to Joshua in his particular task of leading the people into the land.  Yahweh will go before them.  He will not leave them. He will not forsake them.

     

    Moses writes down the Law, gives it to the priests and commands them to read it every seven years at the time when slaves are released.   It is by hearing that the people will learn what God requires and what it means to fear him rightly as they live in his land.

     

    31:14-29  Yahweh commissions Joshua to be leader when Moses is gone.  Yahweh predicts the faithlessness of his people.  Many evils and troubles will come because the people reject Yahweh.  Moses writes a song (which we read in chapter 32) as a witness for the people to know that Yahweh has always known their hearts.  Yahweh commissions Joshua and tells him to be strong and courageous.  Then we return to the song, and the witness it shall be to the sin of the people.

     

    This section of the chapter is curious, with the hopeful of note of Joshua’s call combining with the warning tones of just how badly Israel will go wrong.  Yahweh knows his people. He knows their sin, so Moses warns them strongly.  The same warning note sounds at the end of the book of Joshua.  God is realistic about his people – and yet he will maintain faith, despite their faithlessness.

     

    Deuteronomy 32   The song of Moses

     

    32:1-3  A call to hear, a reminder that teaching can be as rain for dry grass when it proclaims the name of Yahweh and his greatness.

     

    32:4-9  God is perfect. His ways are just and right.

     

    32:10-14  God has rescued and formed his people.

     

    32:15-18  Israel rebelled and worshipped other gods – they forgot the rock that bore them.

     

    32:19-22  Yahweh saw their rebellion and hide his face – provoking them to jealousy, by a nation that was not a nation.

     

    32:23-27  Yahweh sent disasters on his people.

     

    32:28-33  Yet Yahweh also judges his people’s enemies.

     

    32:34-38  Yahweh will bring justice.  In due time their foot will slide.  Vengeance is his.

     

    32:39-43  Yahweh alone is God.  Yahweh is sovereign.  He brings justice.

     

    It is a sobering song, a song reciting Israel’s history against them.  A song showing their tendency to sin.  As we read and reflect, we see our own sin mirrored in Israel’s story and we too need to repent and realise afresh the holiness of God’s character and his might.

     

    The song is followed by another warning, and a final reminder that the words of Yahweh’s Law, spoken by Yahweh, are words of life – indeed Israel’s very life, and by these words they live.  We should remember the one greater than Moses who reminded us that his words are spirit and life for us.

     

    Moses is then called up the mountain to go and see the land, and then to die and be gathered to his people as Aaron before him.  Moses disobeyed at Meribah, and so he will not enter the land.  Moses’ own error adds to the warning set before Israel.

     

    Deuteronomy 33   Moses’ blessing

     

    Before the final report of Moses’ death, we have the final blessing of Moses on Israel. Each of the tribes receives a blessing, in a way that echoes Jacob’s final blessing on his children in Genesis 49.  Sometimes the blessing is very general, at other times very specific, and sometimes more a statement of fact.

     

    33:2-5  Moses begins by remembering Sinai, remembering the giving of the Law, when the Israelites as a whole people accepted God’s rule by accepting his Law.  Jeshurun is related to the word for ‘upright’, and is a way of describing Israel, here and in Isaiah 43.

     

    33:6  Reuben’s blessing is small, echoing Jacob’s rejection of Reuben as his firstborn.

     

    33:7  Moses prays that Yahweh will contend for Judah, the leading tribe.

     

    33:8-11  The tribe of Levi, the tribe of the priests, is next to be blessed.  They placed loyalty to Yahweh above loyalty to family (see the gruesome story in Exodus 32).  The tribe of Levi will be the teachers of Israel, and priests for Yahweh.

     

    33:12  Benjamin is reminded of Yahweh’s protection around his faithful people, and that he is the ‘beloved of Yahweh’.  This blessing is one to meditate on and draw strength from.  God’s people are his beloved, and we are secure in him.

     

    33:13-17  The two tribes of Joseph are given a blessing on their crops and strength.

     

    33:18-19  Zebulun and Issachar are to be those who invite others to worship.

     

    33:20-21  Gad is like a lion, and will be a centre in Israel.

     

    33:22  Dan like a lion’s cub.

     

    33: 23 Naphtali will possess the lake and the south.

     

    33:24-25  Asher’s blessing is for strength that lasts all their days.

     

    33:26-29  Finally, Moses’ song returns to Yahweh, emphasising that there is no-one like God.  He is the eternal God, and he is our dwelling place, and underneath are the everlasting arms.  One of the key themes of Deuteronomy is returned to: Israel are unique as a people because their God is unique.

     

    Deuteronomy 34   Moses’ death

     

    In the final chapter we are told of Moses’ death.  Moses went up to Mount Nebo and God showed him the promised land.  For the writer of this final section of Deuteronomy, no prophet has yet arisen like Moses whom Yahweh knew face to face, or for the mighty deeds that Moses did.  Moses is the greatest figure of the Old Testament: the law-giver and the rescuer of Israel out of Egypt.  Yet, Moses did not get to enter the land.

     

    For the Christian, we are reminded that we follow one who is greater than Moses, who will bring us into the promised land.  Jesus is the perfect mediator between God and people, the perfect high priest who makes atonement for his people, the perfect prophet who speaks God’s Word, and the perfect king who rules over God’s people.

     

    Our response should be to listen and to obey.  The writer to the Hebrews puts it like this in Hebrews 12, quoting from Deuteronomy a few times (see if you can find the different parts – look in Deuteronomy 4 and 5 especially):

     

    18 You have not approached that which could be touched and a blazing fire and gloomy darkness and storm 19 and a trumpet blast and a voice speaking words such that those who heard begged that no message be further addressed to them, 20 for they could not bear to hear the command: “If even an animal touches the mountain, it shall be stoned.” 21 Indeed, so fearful was the spectacle that Moses said, “I am terrified and trembling.” 22 No, you have approached Mount Zion and the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and countless angels in festal gathering, 23 and the assembly of the firstborn enrolled in heaven, and God the judge of all, and the spirits of the just made perfect, 24 and Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and the sprinkled blood that speaks more eloquently than that of Abel.

    25 See that you do not reject the one who speaks. For if they did not escape when they refused the one who warned them on earth, how much more in our case if we turn away from the one who warns from heaven. 26 His voice shook the earth at that time, but now he has promised, “I will once more shake not only earth but heaven.” 27 That phrase, “once more,” points to [the] removal of shaken, created things, so that what is unshaken may remain. 28 Therefore, we who are receiving the unshakable kingdom should have gratitude, with which we should offer worship pleasing to God in reverence and awe. 29 For our God is a consuming fire.

    4-11 The call to be loyal to Yahweh >
      The Apprentice - Helping apprentices of Jesus think through the applications
    • Overall Message
    • /
    • Leading Imperatives
    • /
    • Applications
    • /
    • Holy Habits

    The overall message of the letter:

    Show loyal love to the God who rescued you by being careful to listen to his voice and do what he says.

    The leading imperatives:

    The leading commands are repeated several times in different ways throughout the book of Deuteronomy: Love the LORD your God with all your heart, soul and strength. Remember what God has done. Choose life by obeying God’s instructions. Be faithful to Yahweh alone.

     

    1:8  ‘Go in and take possession of the land.’

    4:1  ‘Hear now, O Israel, the decrees and laws I am about to teach you. Follow them so you may live and go in and take possession of the land.’

    6:5  ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.’

    6:7  ‘Impress (these commandments) on your children.’

    6:14  ‘Do not follow other gods.’ 

    6:16  ‘Do not test the Lord your God.’

    8:5  ‘Know then in your heart that as a man disciplines his son, so the Lord your God disciplines you.’

    11:1  ‘Love the Lord your God and keep his requirements.’

    31:6  ‘Do not be afraid or terrified of them.’  

     

    Chapter 5: The ten commandments.

    Chapters 12-26: Specific laws on a wide variety of religious and social matters.

     

    Applications:

    Deuteronomy contains many commands in which God instructs his people how they should live in the land that he is giving to them. The ten commandments, which are listed in Deuteronomy 5, are taught by Jesus in the sermon on the mount (Matthew 5-7), where he ‘raises the bar’ and teaches the intention of the commands. Other commands, such as those about the festivals and temple sacrifices, have been fulfilled and surpassed by Jesus’ own sacrifice of atonement, as Hebrews 10:14 states ‘for by one sacrifice he has perfected for all time those who are being made holy.’ Many of the commands express how people should look after each other and care for each other. We can learn from these commands how we can obey Jesus’ new command to ‘love one another’. Above all else, Deuteronomy reminds us that we need to show loyal love to God in all we do.

     

    Holy Habits: (Holy Habits are patterns of living and lifestyle practices which we choose to do in our lives.  These can be in order to either withdraw from the dominion of the world, such as silence, secrecy, submission, fasting, watching, simple living, or, practices that plunge us into the life of the Kingdom, such as prayer, worship, celebration, study, serving the poor and deprived, etc. They can be as simple as kneeling by your bed and thanking God at the end of the day, or as substantial as attending an annual Christian festival.)

    • Establish patterns of listening to God’s word.
    • Establish patterns by which we ‘remember’ what God has done.
    • Learn Scripture.
    Leading Imperatives >
    main Questions - Important questions directly from the text

    Question 1 -

    Do you have any experience of needing to decide whether a prophecy given by someone is true or not, or of whether someone is really speaking guided by the Spirit? Does the guidance in Deuteronomy about true and false prophecy (Deut 13, Deut 18) help? If so, how?


    Question 2 -

    What do churches look for in a leader? How might Deuteronomy 17 help us think through what our top priorities should be?


    Question 3 -

    Some churches today claim that Christians should be materially prosperous, often on the basis of some of the verses in Deuteronomy. How would you answer that claim? What do the blessings and curses of Deuteronomy mean for a Christian today?


    Question 4 -

    On the basis of Deuteronomy 7 and similar passages, some people claim that the God of the Old Testament is really a vindictive nasty god. How would you use Deuteronomy to challenge that claim?


    Question 5 -

    How can we practically ‘do’ Deuteronomy 6:4-6 in our lives today?


    dessert course

    A prayer

    Questions

    • A prayer -
    • Prayer
    • /
    • Commentaries

    A prayer based on Deuteronomy

     

    Father, the God who is a consuming fire, we come to you trusting in your love for us.  May we set our hearts apart for you.  May we serve you alone.  May we follow you in working for justice for the poor and the oppressed.  May we love those who come to our land seeking refuge from oppression.  May we fear you alone, serve you alone, hold fast to you alone. May we know that you alone are our praise and glory, and may we this day choose life in genuine and spontaneous devotion to you because underneath us are your everlasting arms. We pray in the name of your faithful son whose obedience has brought us life. Amen.

    BfL Recommends:

     

    For a sound introduction to the book of Deuteronomy:

    ‘Deuteronomy’ by C. K. Wright: 1996 Baker Books. Part of the UBCS series. (350 pages)

     

    A more dated, but still useful commentary is:

    ‘The Book of Deuteronomy’ by P.C. Craigie: Published by Eerdmans, in The New International Commentary on the Old Testament series. 1976. (424 pages)

     

    For studying how to apply ethical laws in contemporary society:

    ‘Slaves, Women and Homosexuals: Exploring the Hermeneutics of Cultural Analysis’ by William Webb. IVP. 2001. (301 pages)

     

    Commentaries >
    dessert Questions - Gloves off; hard questions for the Bible student and theologian

    Question 1 -

    “Walls work” - Donald Trump. How would you use verses in Deuteronomy regarding treatment of the poor and of the foreigner in the land to begin to form a Christian response to that quote?


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    Question 2 -

    In 1 Corinthians 5 Paul tells the church to ‘purge the evil person from among you’ in words that echo Deuteronomy’s command to ‘remove the evil from among you’ – not in Paul’s case by physical punishment, but by exclusion from the church community. What is the place of discipline in church life? When might such drastic action be necessary, and what should it look like in practice?


    Question 3 -

    If Jesus took the curse of the Law, and if we are saved by grace rather than works of the Law, isn’t Deuteronomy irrelevant to the Christian today? If it is relevant, how do we decide how the different laws apply to us today?


    Waiter's Brief

    Answers to Questions

    Questions

    • Answers to Questions -

    Main Course:

    QQQ

    Do you have any experience of needing to decide whether a prophecy given by someone is true or not, or of whether someone is really speaking guided by the Spirit?  Does the guidance in Deuteronomy about true and false prophecy (Deut 13, Deut 18) help? If so, how?

     

    Comment Deuteronomy 13 and 18 give us the beginnings of how we can test those who claim to speak for God today. From chapter 18 we know that the words of a true prophet come true, so if a group or individual today predict an event that does not happen, they cannot be speaking from God in that instance.  One caveat to bear in mind is that sometimes in the Bible God speaks messages of judgement that do not happen because the people repent (e.g. Jonah – and see Jeremiah 18).  Deuteronomy 13 reminds us that true prophecy should lead to right worship – and should definitely not lead to worshipping other gods.  True prophecy should line up with what we know of God from his word, and not lead us away from worshipping him and living for him in the way that he asks us to.  

     

     

    QQQ

    What do churches look for in a leader? How might Deuteronomy 17 help us think through what our top priorities should be?

    Comment  While Deuteronomy 17 might seem remote to our world, on closer examination is it is highly appropriate.  Leaders of Israel were warned against the three common ways leaders can so often be led into sin: money, sex and power.  They were not to accumulate money, or wives and they were not to accumulate horses from Egypt (military power).  Instead they were to be devoted to Yahweh and follow his ways and word.  In our churches we should make sure that we are not expecting and creating church leaders who will be impressive in worldly terms but lack spiritual maturity or godliness. 

     

     

    QQQ

    Some churches today claim that Christians should be materially prosperous, often on the basis of some of the verses in Deuteronomy. How would you answer that claim?  What do the blessings and curses of Deuteronomy mean for a Christian today?

    Comment There are many ways to approach this question.  It is important to remember that even in the Old Testament there are many times when righteous people suffer, and many times when evildoers prosper (a frequent complaint in the Psalms, for example). It is also important to remember the differences between Israel and the Church. Israel was a nation; the Church is scattered around the world. Israel lived in their land; the Church waits for the new heavens and the new earth.  Our blessings are spiritual: they are a foretaste of what is to come that have a profound effect and impact on life now (see Ephesians), but they are not intended to give us ‘our best life now’. Rather, we live now following a crucified King who calls us to take up our cross and give our lives to sharing and showing glimpses of his Kingdom now in our lives.

     

     

     

    QQQ

    On the basis of Deuteronomy 7 and similar passages, some people claim that the God of the Old Testament is really a vindictive nasty god. How would you use Deuteronomy to challenge that claim?

    Comment: Look at the laws governing warfare in Deuteronomy 20. Look at the laws and commands of how Israel was to care for the stranger, the orphan and the widow. Remember that the word used in Deuteronomy 7 – ‘herem’ – does not always mean ‘completely destroy’ everything, but is more to do with the total rejection of the Canaanite religious system that included idolatry, immorality and oppression within it.

     

    QQQ

    How can we practically ‘do’ Deuteronomy 6:4-6 in our lives today?

    Comment : Memorise Scripture. Talk about what we learn of God in our lives with our friends and family. Make sure we are reminding ourselves and each other regularly of what God has done for us in Christ.

     

     

    Dessert Course:

    QQQ

    What should a Christian’s attitude to tithing be today?  What do the different tithes in Deuteronomy have to teach us.
     

    Comment We may not be required to follow the exact laws on tithing, but Deuteronomy reminds us of the importance of using our financial resources to give to support the poor and needy, those involved in leading and teaching in the church and of celebration before Yahweh.
     

    QQQ “Walls work” – Donald Trump. How would you use verses in Deuteronomy regarding treatment of the poor and of the foreigner in the land to begin to form a Christian response to that quote?

     

    Comment: In our world today, where we live in a time of massive economic uncertainty, it is easy to keep others out, to retreat to be with people like us, and to think we cannot afford to be generous.  Deuteronomy reminds us of God’s care for the foreigner, the widow and the orphan – for those who do not have economic resources. Christians believe in a good and generous God who has given enough for everybody. Sharing and welcoming is a way of trusting him and showing that we trust him.  Walls may work in the short term, but in the long term they imprison us in a world of fear and scarcity. 

     

    QQQ

    In 1 Corinthians 5 Paul tells the church to ‘purge the evil person from among you’ in words that echo Deuteronomy’s command to ‘remove the evil from among you’ – not in Paul’s case by physical punishment, but by exclusion from the church community.  What is the place of discipline in church life? When might such drastic action be necessary, and what should it look like in practice?

    Comment

    In the New Testament it seems clear that there are times when a church member might need to be excluded (temporarily) from the church community.  In New Testament times this would have been a serious matter: becoming a Christian was costly, and the church supported each other through those tough times.  Today it is not likely to be as costly, and if someone wants to, they are likely to be able to move churches relatively easily.  Yet we do need to be clear about what we believe, and why, and to make sure that we have a core group of people who are committed disciples of the Lord Jesus in their lives, who will help each other to keep in step with the Spirit.  At times, if one church member falls into a sin that is particularly harmful it may well be necessary for the good of the church and for the good of the individual to make clear how serious that sin is by excluding them from some part of the fellowship until there is clear repentance. 

     

    QQQ

    If Jesus took the curse of the Law, and if we are saved by grace rather than works of the Law, isn’t Deuteronomy irrelevant to the Christian today? If it is relevant, how do we decide how the different laws apply to us today? 

    Comment We should remember places like Matthew 19 where Jesus discusses the divorce laws and says ‘Moses commanded these things because your hearts were hard, but in the beginning, it was not so’.  In other words, we need to go back to creation to see God’s original design, look to Israel’s laws to see how God regulated the behaviour of sinful people, look to the New Testament teaching to see God’s commands for his people to live out in the power of the Spirit, and look forward to the New Creation to see what will eventually be.  We see the Old Testament laws as part of a trajectory of God’s redemption in history – so the laws show us God’s heart and the direction he is seeking to move people.