Deuteronomy: The What and the Why

30 May

So I’ve been reading through the Old Testament lately. It’s been going well, meaning that I’ve been doing it and liking it enough to keep doing it. But now I’m in Deuteronomy.

Deuteronomy is the bomb. It’s so much the bomb that I feel compelled to resort to hokey slang like “the bomb” to laud it. Deuteronomy? More like Deuter-ROCKIN’-ME.

Okay, okay. But in all (or at least mostly) seriousness, I am thoroughly enjoying this book.

One of the things I love about it is that it is not what most people think it is — a law book packed with rules and regulation and devoid of any tenderness or excitement. I suspect that a lot of people who have this idea of Deuteronomy actually gave up on their “read the Bible in a year” plan somewhere in Leviticus or Numbers. (I found Leviticus to be actually pretty cool also, and there were certian points in Numbers I enjoyed. Still working on that one. However, Deuteronomy is still my clear favorite.)

Firstly, Deutoronomy is basically Moses’ last words to the nation of Israel. Everything he spoke in this book, he spoke knowing full well that the Lord was about to take him up on a mountain to die. Moses wasn’t looking at this as merely a review of the legal code (and neither was the Lord, for that matter). He was looking at a nation of people who were about to be turned over to a new leader, entering a new land, stinging from the loss of the man who had been a constant leader for them for more than forty years.

Except for Caleb and Joshua, none of these folks would even remember a time when Moses wasn’t at the helm. Anyone under forty years old had no clue what life in Egypt was like, no memory of what the Lord did there in the Exodus. Israel was making a key shift from being nomads, wandering the desert, to being warriors, taking over and settling in their promised inheritance. Everything was changing. Nothing was established.

For Moses, a leader who had given decades of his life to a people, this would have to be a terrifically worrisome time and place to bow out. You can bet he wasn’t reciting the law with a bored monotone. He cared intensely that Israel would get it. He was fueled by the Lord’s own zeal and compassion. This mattered. Big time.

Secondly, in Deuteronomy, things aren’t just left at “obey, because the Lord said to.” While that’s an incredibly good reason in and of itself, God (through Moses) is constantly giving His people the why behind the what.  I’m going to put in just  a few examples below of the type of gorgeous language that is all throughout the book.

A lot of the “why” is in consideration of the consequence of their actions, positive or nevative. For instance, rather than merely commanding Israel to observe the law because it’s right, the word is, “…hear, O Israel, and be careful to observe it, that it may be well with you, and that you may multiply greatly as the LORD God of your fathers promised you…” (6:3). Moses explains, “…the LORD commanded us to observe all these statutes, to fear the LORD our God, for our good always” (6:24). The whole of chapter 28 is dedicated to the blessings of obedience (vv. 1-14) and the curses of disobedience (vv. 15-68).

Other times, the “why” is in reminding Israel who they are.

For you are a holy people to the LORD your God; the LORD your God has chosen you to be a people for Himself, a special treasure above all the peoples on the face of the earth. The LORD did not set His love on you nor choose you because you were more in number than any other people, for you were the least of all peoples; but because the LORD loves you, and because He would keep the oath which He swore to your fathers, the LORD has brought you out with a mighty hand, and redeemed you from the house of bondage… (7:6-9, emphasis added)

I love how affirming that is. Israel wasn’t just a random group of dorky people in the wilderness. They were a holy people. God chose them. He dignified them by making them His inheritance, His special treasure. (You can see this language repeated in 14:2,21) When people really believe what God has to say about them, it motivates them to live differently. We would do well to take note of this and then make it a big part of our prayer life to find out what God thinks of us.

Other times — and this is my favorite — the “why” is answered with a “Who”. God motivates His people not just with consequences, and not just with their identity and calling, but with His very own nature. I love it. Some examples:

  • Idolatry is not okay because the Lord is a jealous, consuming fire (4:24).
  • The commandments were to be obeyed because the LORD is the only true God (4:39… we see in 4:35 that the whole Exodus scenario was designed by God to convince Israel of who He is)
  • Israel was not to fear the nations whose land they were taking, because God went before them as a consuming fire (9:3, 20:1 … same analogy as 4:24, but comforting rather than warning)
  • The tribe of Levi was to be given no inheritance of land, because the Lord was their inheritance (18:2)
  • Israel was to obey and cling to God, because “He is your life and the length of your days” (30:20)

I have to post one of my favorite examples of this here, from Deuteronomy 7:9-11. It’s both the goodness and severity of God beautifully put forth as motivation for obeying His word:

Therefore know that the Lord your God, He is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and mercy for a thousand generations with those who love Him and keep His commandments, and He repays those who hate Him to their face, to destroy them. He will not be slack with him who hates Him; He will repay him to his face. Therefore you shall keep the commandment, the statues, and the judgments… (7:9-11)

Deuteronomy 10:12-11:25  is too long to post here, but read it. In these not-quite-two chapters, you can see the commandments, but you also see motivation based on who God is, who Israel is to Him, and the positive and negative consequences of their actions. It’s fantastic.

And finally, one more of my favorite points — Deuteronomy is the original appearance of that “first commandment” Jesus mentioned in Matthew 22:38 and Mark 12:30. As per Jesus’ interpretation, this is the overarching principle that sets the tone for every other commandment issuing forth from the mouth of God. “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one! You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength” (Deut 6:4). Scattered throughout Deuteronomy are references back to this first and great commandent (see 11:1, 13, 22; 13:3; 30:6). In Deuteronomy, I see more clearly than in any of the other books of the Law that the origin and goal of obedience is love.

My hope is that one or two people who read this will have the lens to see how awesome Deuteronomy is, and how much there is to discover about God in it. That said, I’m going to leave you with a few fun key words and themes that I really enjoyed finding in there. Happy Scripture-searching!

Key words:

Remember / do not forget / lest you forget

be careful


the Lord has chosen


Posted by on May 30, 2009 in Bible, Deuteronomy


3 responses to “Deuteronomy: The What and the Why

  1. Dorean Beattie

    May 30, 2009 at 9:41 am

    Deuter-ROCKIN’-ME??? That’s awesome!

  2. Jenny Powell

    May 31, 2009 at 6:28 pm

    this is such a great post!!! 🙂 i’ve been reading deuteronomy lately and this totally helped me see it in a new light. 🙂 (i also really love the deuter-rockin-me part. 🙂 i’m gonna link to this on my blog. thanks for posting!!!

  3. Jenny Powell

    May 31, 2009 at 6:29 pm

    wow that was a lot of smiley faces. ha!


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