Reflections on Deuteronomy

I’m reading through the Bible in a year, and every month I blog about what I’ve read. Other posts this month are on Isaiah and Revelation.

[Six months down, six to go in my annual Bible reading plan. So far, I’ve read 772 chapters, though 10 of those are repeats. There are 1,189 chapters in the Bible, so I’m doing pretty well, if I may say so myself. ]

Moses was an old man, yet his eyes were not weak nor his strength gone, as he assembled the Israelites at the place where 40 years earlier they had failed to trust in God and claim the promised land. Moses gives a series of addresses to the people; his words are not those of a grumpy old man, but of a man who wanted to make sure that the people would remember all he’d previously taught them (reminds me of 2 Peter 1:13-15).  He reviewed their history since their leaving Egypt, reminding the people of God’s miraculous provision, their rebellion, God’s judgment, God’s mercy and His commands.

Reading some of the commands Moses gave, I couldn’t help but wonder how different the story of Israel would have been if they had followed them. Had they diligently taught their children (Deut 6:2), they wouldn’t have fallen into idolatry so soon after Joshua’s death (Judges 2:8-13), and would have spared themselves a whole host of problems that came with rejecting God. Yet God never stopped loving those rebels. Why? Because He is a covenant-keeping God:

The LORD did not set his affection on 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 he swore to your forefathers that he brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the land of slavery, from the power of Pharaoh king of Egypt. Know therefore that the LORD your God is God; he is the faithful God, keeping his covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love him and keep his commands.

—Deuteronomy 7:7-9

Hear, O Israel. You are now about to cross the Jordan to go in and dispossess nations greater and stronger than you, with large cities that have walls up to the sky. The people are strong and tall—Anakites! You know about them and have heard it said: “Who can stand up against the Anakites?” But be assured today that the LORD your God is the one who goes across ahead of you like a devouring fire. He will destroy them; he will subdue them before you. And you will drive them out and annihilate them quickly, as the LORD has promised you.

After the LORD your God has driven them out before you, do not say to yourself, “The LORD has brought me here to take possession of this land because of my righteousness.” No, it is on account of the wickedness of these nations that the LORD is going to drive them out before you. It is not because of your righteousness or your integrity that you are going in to take possession of their land; but on account of the wickedness of these nations, the LORD your God will drive them out before you, to accomplish what he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Understand, then, that it is not because of your righteousness that the LORD your God is giving you this good land to possess, for you are a stiff-necked people.

—Deuteronomy 9:1-6

God does not change. He’s still a covenant-keeping God who saves people who’ve not done anything to deserve it. Thank God for that!

D. A. Carson makes the following observations on the ending of Deuteronomy and the Pentateuch:

  • The law-covenant simply did not have the power to transform the covenant people of God.
  • We should not be surprised by more instances of catastrophic decline.
  • The major hope lies in the coming of a prophet like Moses.
  • Somehow this is tied to the promises at the front end of the story: we wait for someone of Abraham’s seed through whom all the nations of the earth will be blessed.

Regarding silly observations, I found Deuteronomy 7:22 to be of immense practicality. Secondly, I wonder why the curses in chapter 28 occupy thrice the space the blessings do. Finally, did you know that Deuteronomy was the book Jesus most often quoted from?

A personal non-silly observation is that God commanded the Israelites not to provoke to war the Edomites, Moabites and Ammonites (Deuteronomy 2:5, 9. 19), as they were the descendants of Esau and Lot. God have given the Edomites, Moabites and Ammonites their lands and the Israelites, despite their privileged position as God’s covenant people, weren’t to take it away from them. Wonder if there’s any lesson in there for us today…

Sources: D.A. Carson, Mark Dever/ Capitol Hill Baptist Church.

Hear, O Israel. You are now about to cross the Jordan to go in and dispossess nations greater and stronger than you, with large cities that have walls up to the sky. 2 The people are strong and tall—Anakites! You know about them and have heard it said: “Who can stand up against the Anakites?” 3 But be assured today that the LORD your God is the one who goes across ahead of you like a devouring fire. He will destroy them; he will subdue them before you. And you will drive them out and annihilate them quickly, as the LORD has promised you.4 After the LORD your God has driven them out before you, do not say to yourself, “The LORD has brought me here to take possession of this land because of my righteousness.” No, it is on account of the wickedness of these nations that the LORD is going to drive them out before you. 5 It is not because of your righteousness or your integrity that you are going in to take possession of their land; but on account of the wickedness of these nations, the LORD your God will drive them out before you, to accomplish what he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. 6 Understand, then, that it is not because of your righteousness that the LORD your God is giving you this good land to possess, for you are a stiff-necked people.