For many, Deuteronomy is a closed book. Assuming that it is directed to the Israelites, countless Christians have too long missed its vital message. Perhaps even more tragic is the fact that preachers also have been guilty, all too often, of neglecting this “love-filled” book. Deuteronomy is one of the most frequently cited books in the New Testament, with more than eighty references to it. Some of the most significant quotations are from the lips of Christ himself.
Taking God seriously Neil Postmanin his book, “Amusing ourselves to death,” says, “…Christianity is a demanding and serious religion. When it is delivered as easy and amusing, it is another kind of religion altogether”And he warns against the danger of losing what he calls, ‘a sense of spiritual transcendence.’ We are in danger in today`s church of losing touch with the living God of the Bible, and replacing him with a user – friendly god, one who is at our beck and call, rather than the sovereign God of Deuteronomy. Modern spirituality presents a wispy god, who is kind of anything you want him to be, but here in the book of Deuteronomy is a God who is, in C. S. Lewis’ words, ‘…alive, pulling at the other end of the cord, … approaching at infinite speed, the hunter, the king, the husband…’
“Acknowledge and take to heart this day that the Lord is God in heaven above and on the earth below. There is no other…” (Deut.4:39).
What does it look like to have a relationship with this God?
What will it look like, to live as the redeemed people of God?
The obedience of faith
That`s where Deuteronomy is so helpful pastorally. The bulk of the book is taken up with ‘the obedience of faith.’ Obedience, not in order to be saved but because we are saved. In chapters 12 to 26, which make up the core of the book, Moses is simply applying the 10 commandments to Israel`s new life in the promised land. This is how God expects his redeemed people to live in Canaan. Of course, these laws are all to do with Israel in the land. Certainly, they are highly contextualized to ancient Near Eastern culture. You could say they were written to ancient Israel, but they are written for us. We live in a very different time and in a very different place, but even so, we can see something of the shape of the redeemed life here. As Mark Glanvillesays: “these commandments shaped Israelite society to be a place where every person could thrive, in contrast to the oppression and exploitation that the nation had experienced in Egypt – in this way Israel was to be a display people before all the world…. a distinctive kind of people, a countercultural community among the nations”.
To a thousand generations
Moses is not only preparing them to enter the land, he wants them to stay in the land under God`s blessing for generations to come, so he says, ‘These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates’ (Deut.6:6-9). The Jews took this literally and missed the point. It isn`t meant to be understood in some kind of ritualistic way – “these commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts.” Not on your walls but on your hearts. “Impress them on your children” sitting, walking, lying down, getting up, hanging out with your friends, indoors, outdoors, from breakfast to bedtime…talk about the word of God. This is about relationships, not rituals. It`s about doing life together, husband and wife, parents and kids, fellow believers, under the word of God. It`s what Paul said to the Colossians: “Let the word of Christ dwell among you richly….” (Col.3:16).Let that be the environment in which you rear the next generation. It`s often been pointed out that the gospel can be lost from our churches in just a couple of generations. First it is accepted, then it is assumed, then it is confused, then it is lost and in four generations it`s gone! Deuteronomy teaches us how to pass on the baton to generations to come.
To the ends of the earth
Chris Wright argues that Jesus more than alludes to the book of Deuteronomy in what we call the great commission. “In commissioning his disciples Jesus assumes the Yahweh, the Deuteronomic God position” In Deuteronomy 4:39, God says, “Acknowledge and take to heart this day that the Lord is God in heaven above and on the earth below. There is no other…” and Jesus says to his followers, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me, therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you……” That is one of the most repeated phrases in the book of Deuteronomy. “Be careful to observe all that the Lord your God has commanded you.” What will that look like? The mission of the church is not simply to go and preach the gospel – it is that; the gospel is central – it`s the wheel that drives everything else we do. Everything the church is and does ought to be missional. God`s whole mission is for God`s whole Church and that covers the whole of life: our working lives, our leisure time, at home, in the office. If Jesus is Lord of heaven and earth, there is no place, no part of life that is exempt from the great commission. “As you go, make disciples of all nations, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.”
The Gospel in Deuteronomy
Tim Keller has an article on the Gospel Coalition website entitled, “When Moses preached the Gospel.” He points out that there is a tension at the heart of God`s covenant, which runs right through the book of Deuteronomy and which never seems to get resolved: a tension between law and love, blessing and cursing. “This is the very plotline of the bible”, says Keller, “it`s what propels the narrative of the bible forward to the cross.” Will God give up on his people or will he give in to his people? That`s the dilemma in the heart of God – a dilemma which is finally resolved in the Cross of Christ.