Our reading plan is taking us through the Old Testament, but it is not taking us through it canonically. We are not reading the Old Testament books in order from first to last as they are found in the Bible but are instead jumping around. That is how we went from Song of Songs last week to Deuteronomy this week.
Deuteronomy is interesting book. Like Chronicles, it repeats or restates information given in other books. As Chronicles repeats Samuel and Kings, so Deuteronomy repeats Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers. That is, it repeats the books of The Law. In fact, the name Deuteronomy means “second law” or “second giving of The Law”.
A New Generation and A New Era
There is a very good reason why there was this second giving of The Law. There were two good reasons, actually.
The first reason is given in Numbers. As that book tells us, the Exodus generation of Israelites died in the wilderness as a result of their refusal to take the Promised Land and a new generation of Israelites took their place. By and large, this new generation was not present at the first giving of The Law. I suppose it is possible that a few of them were technically “there” (that is, those who were 20 and younger at that time), but most of those wouldn’t have been old enough to understand what they were receiving and how it was to change their lives. So there was a large group of people between 60 to 1 who needed to receive God’s law in a fresh way if not for the very first time.
The second reason is that this generation was at a new place. The first giving of The Law was at Mount Sinai, which is about halfway between Egypt and the Promised Land. The second giving of The Law as in the Arabah, the area east of the Jordan just outside the Promised Land. In other words, this new generation was much closer to entering the Promised Land than the Exodus generation was. They were on the precipice of that land. That makes this moment a historical moment.
A new generation and a historical moment calls for something special. They call for a special interaction with God. And that is what they were given.
A Couple Sermons
This new interaction took the form of sermons. Moses, who was himself about to leave this life, gives The Law this second time in an oral form. As his last leadership act, he declares The Law verbally to the people.
How he does this is the subject of some small debate. Scholars suggest Deuteronomy was not given in just one shot, that is, that Moses did not deliver one long diatribe, but instead in a few shots, a couple shorter sermons. While I think this is likely true, I am also not able to determine where these sermons are in the book, that is, at what chapter one sermon ends and another begins. It could be 1-11, 12-26, and 27-34. But I’ve also hears some consider 30-34, traditionally called “The Song of Moses”, as a fourth, separate sermon.
However these sermons come and/or however the book is divided, the fact is they are there. This book is a written account of Moses’ final words, the last sermon or sermons he would give as leader of Israel.
A Prediction of Fall and Restoration
While I could categorize the bulk of this sermon/these sermons as a call to faithfulness to God/obedience to The Law, there is another, very important idea that creeps in. This is the idea of a future fall into disobedience and subsequent punishment by God.
This idea largely comes in the later, climactic chapters of the book. After telling the Israelites that he is setting before them “life and death” in 30:19 (an idea repeated in Jeremiah 21:8), Moses then predicts that the people will choose death. He prophesies that they will reject God for idols and suffer consequence with the ultimate consequence being defeat by a foreign nation (32:19-27). He further says God will not allow this foreign nation to completely destroy them but will instead “vindicate” them after a time (32:36).
This is clearly a reference to the Babylonian Exile, one of the three great events of Old Testament history (the other two being the Exodus and David’s kingship). The fact that it is referenced here this early in the Old Testament story shows that it is one of these great events. This event is the driving event of the prophets; all the Old Testament prophets refer to it in some way. It is the concluding event of Kings and Chronicles. It is the event behind Lamentations and the event leading to Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther. And that event was on Moses’ mind here. That event and the restoration which follows it is a big part of the thinking of Deuteronomy.
O The Depth
It remains a big part of the thinking of The Faith today. Paul is clearly referencing the Exile and the way Moses understood it in Romans 9-11. He quotes these latter parts of that book several times in his discussion of how Israel’s rebellion is bringing the Gentiles to salvation and how the Gentiles salvation is in turn overcoming Israel’s rebellion (Romans 10:7 & 8, 10:19, and 11:8). He then concludes this section by saying:
Oh, the depths of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God.
And those depths are what we are finding here in Deuteronomy centuries before Paul. Yes, it does seem strange that God would give this new generation at this momentous moment a complex law and then castigate them with the prediction that they would not keep it. But that strangeness disappears when we realize that even here at this early stage God was working around the stubbornness and wickedness of fallen man to bring about salvation.
That, more than anything, is what Deuteronomy shows us. It doesn’t just show us a law, whether first or second. It doesn’t just show us disobedience to that law. It doesn’t just show us a new generation or a new stage in Israelite history. It shows us God working to fix once and for all everything we have broken, to ultimately bring life even though we constantly choose death.
And that’s exactly what He did a couple millennia later when Jesus came through this same area where Deuteronomy was given and did what it was never able to do.