This is part two of an overview of the book of Deuteronomy, a book in which God’s glory absolutely radiates off the pages. The first part of this study dealt with chapters one through eleven.
The setting for the book is the plains of Moab on the eastern shores of the Jordan River. The forty years in the wilderness are coming to a close. A new generation of Israel has risen after the deaths of all in the Exodus generation. Moses, Joshua, and Caleb are all that remain and Moses is about to die. In that sense, the book of Deuteronomy serves as a sort of last will and testament. He is communicating God’s word to them one more time before he dies.
A couple of things set Israel apart from the other nations:
First, God’s presence among them. This truth is encapsulated in Deuteronomy 4:7 when we read, “For what great nation is there that has a god so near to it as is the LORD your God whenever we call on Him?”
And second, they were called to holiness by a righteous law. The very next verse, Deuteronomy 4:8, “Or what great nation is there that has statutes and judgments as righteous as this whole law which I am setting before you today?” The righteous law is, of course, because of a righteous, holy God. “Has any people heard the voice of God speaking from the midst of the fire, as you have heard it, and survived?” That’s Deuteronomy 4:33.
And, of course, all of this meant that Israel had a responsibility, and in fact, a motivation to obey God. They were to remember their history and know that disobedience would bring about judgment, while obedience would result in blessing. They were to remember to the God of their fathers, and likewise teach their sons and grandsons so that they would love the LORD their God with all their heart and all their soul and all their might.
I have previously referenced this quote from Dr. James Hamilton, “Yahweh is to be the central reality of their existence. He is to be the most relevant thing in their lives. He is their praise, their God, who has done magnificent and fearsome things for them, making a small tribe into a myriad of people.” And that sets the stage for us to consider the rest of the book now as we continue this thematic overview, seeing how the main idea of all of this is the glory of God in salvation through judgment.
We can tell that there is a new section in the book, which sort of reads like a sermon from Moses. In 12:1 we read, “These are the statutes and the judgments which you shall carefully observe in the land which the LORD, the God of your fathers, has given to to posses as long as you live on the earth.” And what follows really for the next fifteen chapters is a recounting of those statutes and judgments.
If they obey they will be blessed beyond their imaginations, but if they do not they will be cursed beyond their imaginations. Both the promise of blessings and cursings is meant to motivate them to obey. But as we know even in our own time, our own generation, knowledge of what is to come does not always influence the decisions made and actions taken in the present. That’s why Moses had to teach this new generation again, that they might not fall into the error of their parents.
There is a sense in which the book of Deuteronomy is an exposition, an explanation, of the Ten Commandments that were recounted in chapter five. For example,
You shall have no gods before Me. In chapters six through eleven, which we looked to previously, we really saw this hammered home.
Deuteronomy 12 and 13 speak to having no idols. Look at Deuteronomy 12:3-5:
“You shall tear down their altars and smash their sacred pillars and burn their Asherim with fire, and you shall cut down the engraved images of their gods and obliterate their name from that place. 4 You shall not act like this toward the LORD your God. 5 But you shall seek the LORD at the place which the LORD your God will choose from all your tribes, to establish His name there for His dwelling, and there you shall come.”
Israel was to worship God how He wanted, where He wanted, when He wanted. A holy God can demand such things. Today many who call themselves Christians want to worship God the way they want to, so they create a god in their own image, they go to a church in their own image. And while it’s easy to look at others and find them guilty, even if they are, we can be guilty of the same thing. We must always… always… see to it that we are worshipping God as He has decreed.
Chapters 13 and 14, in a sense, address the third commandment. Don’t take the name of the LORD in vain. You stone a false prophet. You sacrifice the right way. Everything about you is to reflect the distinctness of YHWH.
The fourth commandment, remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy, is reflected in chapters 14 through 16 as Moses reminds Israel that they are to worship God as He has prescribed and no other way. Three times a year at the place He sets His name.
The fifth commandment, to honor your father and mother, is shown in chapters 16-18 with reference to authorities. Judges and officers shall be appointed in all towns. There are priests and prophets. And then, of course, in Deuteronomy 17 there is the ominous prediction that Israel will ask for a king. God gives them requirements for their king, the most distinct of which, in my opinion, is that he is to himself write a copy of the law on a scroll in the presence of the Levitical priests, as a reminder to himself and testimony to the nation of his duty to fear the LORD and keep the law.
You shall not murder, the sixth commandment, is expounded on in chapters 19-22. Cities of refuge, which are a typological reference to the refuge we find through faith in Christ, are set apart. There are laws for warfare in chapter 20. Laws for husbands and wives and sons and daughters in how to treat one another. Deuteronomy 21:23 points to the holiness of God and the sanctity of life when we read, “If a man has committed a sin worthy of death and he is put to death, and you hang him on a tree, his corpse shall not hang all night on the three, but you shall surely bury him the same day (for he who is hanged is accursed of God), so that you do not defile the land which the LORD your God gives you as an inheritance.” We can look back and see Christ in that command, and it occurs to me that He obeyed the law even in the timing of His death.
The seventh commandment, do not commit adultery, is shown in the following chapters. Let’s look at Deuteronomy 22:9-11:
“You shall not sow your vineyard with two kinds of seed, or all the produce of the seed which you have sown and the increase of the vineyard will become defiled. 10 You shall not plow with an ox and a donkey together. 11 You shall not wear a material mixed of wool and linen together.”
These verses remind me of Proverbs 5: “Drink water from your own cistern and fresh water from your own well… Rejoice in the wife of your youth… Why should you, my son, be exhilarated with an adulteress?” There are laws concerning divorce in chapter 24 as well.
Do not steal, the eighth commandment, is expounded on. There are laws regarding how to handle disputes, about not perverting justice, about providing for the helpless.
The ninth commandment, do not bear false witness, is expounded on as truthfulness is proclaimed for the nation of Israel.
Finally, the tenth commandment, do not covet, is expounded on in the conditions for levirate marriage. These are the provisions that eventually set the stage for the book of Ruth, and Boaz taking her as his wife. The law, in essence, states that we are not to want what is not ours, but instead, it is shame when we decide not to build up what our brother has. Moses writes here that when a man says “I do not desire to take her (the dead brother’s wife), then his brother’s wife shall come to him in the sight of the elders, and pull his sandal off his foot and spit in his face; and she shall declare, ‘Thus it is done to the man who does not build up his brother’s house.’” There is shame in coveting and, likewise, shame in not seeking the benefit of a brother.
In all of these laws we find blessing for the nation of Israel when they obey, but judgment in their disobedience. God will be glorified in the salvation He accords Israel by His grace, and also glorified in the judgment He will render upon those who rebel against His lordship.
Deuteronomy 27 and 28 show this judgment perhaps better than any other place in the Old Testament. Israel has seen the glory of YHWH. He has rescued them from Egypt and saved them through judgment in the wilderness. He has now brought them to the precipice of the land of promise, where He will be their God and they will be His people. They live and so they are to live righteously, by the Law, in accordance with the commands of the One who speaks from the fire. And we read this in Deuteronomy 28:58-68:
“If you are not careful to observe all the words of this law which are written in this book, to fear this honored and awesome name, the LORD your God, 59 then the LORD will bring extraordinary plagues on you and your descendants, even severe and lasting plagues, and miserable and chronic sicknesses. 60 He will bring back on you all the diseases of Egypt of which you were afraid, and they will cling to you. 61 Also every sickness and every plague which, not written in the book of this law, the LORD will bring on you until you are destroyed. 62 Then you shall be left few in number, whereas you were as numerous as the stars of heaven, because you did not obey the LORD your God. 63 It shall come about that as the LORD delighted over you to prosper you, and multiply you, so the LORD will delight over you to make you perish and destroy you; and you will be torn from the land where you are entering to possess it. 64 Moreover, the LORD will scatter you among all peoples, from one end of the earth to the other end of the earth; and there you shall serve other gods, wood and stone, which you or your fathers have not known. 65 Among those nations you shall find no rest, and there will be no resting place for the sole of your foot; but there bthe LORD will give you a trembling heart, failing of eyes, and despair of soul. 66 So your life shall hang in doubt before you; and you will be in dread night and day, and shall have no assurance of your life. 67 In the morning you shall say, ‘Would that it were evening!’ And at evening you shall say, ‘Would that it were morning!’ because of the dread of your heart which you dread, and for the sight of your eyes which you will see. 68 The LORD will bring you back to Egypt in ships, by the way about which I spoke to you, ‘You will never see it again!’ And there you will offer yourselves for sale to your enemies as male and female slaves, but there will be no buyer.”
It will be worse than when you were in Egypt. You will want to be slaves and there will be no buyer. That’s how bad it will be. God is a holy God and thus He will judge rebellion harshly, yet justly. And, of course, the intention in God announcing this in the first place is that they will obey, the same way we preach a real hell, a real eternal punishment for sin, that men might obey now.
These are the words of the covenant which the LORD commanded Moses to make with the sons of Israel in the land of Moab, besides the covenant which He had made with them at Horeb.
A covenant besides the one made at Horeb. A covenant to enter the land. A covenant for a new generation of Israel. It would be reasonable to obey, but while mankind likes to debate faith vs. reason, no man by nature acts reasonably. We are sinners and sin is never reasonable. We have to have circumcised hearts to obey God, and that’s what Moses tells Israel in Deuteronomy 29.
Yet to this day the LORD has not given you a heart to know, nor eyes to see, nor ears to hear.
Moses goes on to tell Israel what will happen if they break the covenant they are entering into, almost as if to prophesy what will happen when they break the covenant. Even when they do this, God will receive the glory from other nations when He judges Israel. They will ask why YHWH destroyed His land and the answer will be they broke the covenant, they worshipped other gods, and other nations will understand the holiness of YHWH (Think Nebuchadnezzar eventually, and Darius). All of this will happen so that Israel might return to YHWH.
So it shall be when all of these things have come upon you, the blessing and the curse which I have set before you, and you call them to mind in all nations where the LORD your God has banished you, 2 and you return to the LORD your God and obey Him with all your heart and soul according to all that I command you today, you and your sons, 3 then the LORD your God will restore you from captivity, and have compassion on you, and will gather you again from all the peoples where the LORD your God has scattered you. 4 If your outcasts are at the ends of the earth, from there the LORD your God will gather you, and from there He will bring you back. 5 The LORD your God will bring you into the land which your fathers possessed, and you shall possess it; and He will prosper you and multiply you more than your fathers.
But beyond that, He will circumcise their hearts. This, beloved, is a prediction in this covenant of another covenant, the New Covenant, to come.
Moreover athe LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your descendants, to love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, so that you may live. 7 The LORD your God will inflict all these curses on your enemies and on those who hate you, who persecuted you. 8 And you shall again obey the LORD, and observe all His commandments which I command you today. 9 Then the LORD your God will prosper you abundantly in all the work of your hand, in the offspring of your 3body and in the offspring of your cattle and in the produce of your ground, for bthe LORD will again rejoice over you for good, just as He rejoiced over your fathers; 10 if you obey the LORD your God to keep His commandments and His statutes which are written in this book of the law, if you turn to the LORD your God with all your heart and soul.
The grace of God will abound on His people. His faithfulness will overcome their transgressions. His love will cover a multitude of sins. He will save for His own glory through judgment.
It’s not too difficult for Israel. Not by the grace of God. The word is very near them, in their mouths and in their hearts that they might observe it, according to verses 11-14, so in the rest of the chapter they are called on to choose life that they might live. Choose life. If they disobey they will surely perish, but if they choose life they will live. There is divine sovereignty over all of this, but you cannot deny the human responsibility that was facing Israel, nor the responsibility facing each and every one of us to love God and obey Him.
The message of Deuteronomy, beyond contributing to the grand theme of Scripture of God’s glory in salvation through judgment, is this: God has done it, therefore, love Him. Trust and obey, for there’s no other way. God has brought you out of Egypt. God has brought you here to the land. God has shown you grace. Now love Him, trust Him, obey Him. And therein lies the arrow that Deuteronomy points to Jesus Christ. It is finished at the cross. Our sins have been paid for by His blood, in His love. Therefore, love Jesus, trust Jesus, obey Jesus.
The sermon of Deuteronomy nears its end as in 31:3 Moses reminds them that YHWH will cross ahead of them. He will destroy the nations before them. Joshua is again shown to be the successor to Moses, the new leader who will take them into the land. God will not fail them or forsake them, and thus Joshua is to be strong and courageous. Moses is here uttering words we’ll see again out of the mouth of the LORD in Joshua 1.
The theme of the song of Moses in Deuteronomy 32 is the name of YHWH. He is the Rock who is faithful. He is the Rock who is just and perfect. People deal sinfully, treacherously, but He is good. He will judge evil. He will be concerned for His own reputation, which is not selfish, not when you are a holy God. In verses 15-33 Moses speaks an indictment against the previous generation of Israel, surmising in verse 31 that “there rock is not like our Rock.”
In chapter 33 Moses, in a sense recalling the blessing of Jacob to his twelve sons at the conclusion of the book of Genesis, also blesses the sons of Israel by tribe, then, in chapter 34, he goes up to Mount Nebo, sees the land (as God promised), and he dies (again, as God promised). Grace and justice right there. Verse six actually tells us that YHWH buried Moses in the valley and no man knows where. In verse 8 Israel mourns. And though they are going to go into the land now, Deuteronomy concludes with this in 34:9-12:
Now Joshua the son of Nun was filled with the spirit of wisdom, for Moses had laid his hands on him; and the sons of Israel listened to him and did as the LORD had commanded Moses. 10 Since that time no prophet has risen in Israel like Moses, whom the LORD knew face to face, 11 for all the signs and wonders which the LORD sent him to perform in the land of Egypt against Pharaoh, all his servants, and all his land, 12 and for all the mighty power and for all the great terror which Moses performed in the sight of all Israel.
When the final pen was put down on Deuteronomy, by whoever it was God inspired to finish this work which Moses was inspired to write, no one had yet come along quite like him. And even at the time of Christ, and even today for Jews who have missed Christ, Moses is still the one whom no one is like. A fitting epitaph in the word of God for a sinner saved by God’s grace whom God used to display His glory in salvation through judgment to His people, Israel.
So that’s Deuteronomy, a book in which the glory of YHWH is right up front to us. He has saved. He has judged. And we must respond. Beloved, the same is true right here, right now. When we come before the Lord we must acknowledge His glory. We must acknowledged His saving action, removing our sin from us and crediting us with perfect righteousness, along with the promise to bring us into glory. We must also acknowledge His judging action in the death of Christ, how the Son of God became a curse. He became the One hung on the tree for the punishment deserving of death, our sins. And now to the glory of God our as far from those who trust in Christ as the east is from the west. Now we must respond to the glory of God.