(The first five of “the best things in Deuteronomy”)
The first 5 books of the Bible, called the Pentateuch, are Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. These are called the books of Moses, since they claim him as their author.
What sets Deuteronomy apart from the first four is that it is actually a recap of the earlier ones. (The name literally means a second giving of the law.)
Moses is about done. The people who exodus’d out of Egypt have mostly died off now and a new generation is on the scene, the children of those ex-slaves. Only Joshua and Caleb, faithful spies from the Kadesh-Barnea days, will have traveled the entire road and will settle in Canaan (see Numbers 14:30). Even Moses will die before entering, the result of his own failure to obey the Lord (see Numbers 20).
The new generation needs to know everything. Everything is now on their shoulders. They need to be taught their history, their scriptures, the Laws, their relationship with the Lord, what God has promised and what He is up to at this moment, and what will be expected of them.
We’re always only one generation away from paganism.
Each new crop of youngsters must be taught. There is no holier or weightier obligation, no finer opportunity. Our best teachers must be gathered and taught and assisted to instruct our children and youth. Woe to the church that dismisses this as baby-sitting and turns over its youth to the immature, the shallow, and the superficial. They will pay for their mistake a thousand times and regret it forever.
Every teacher will have their own favorite insights into key portions of Scripture. Here are a few things from Deuteronomy that stand out in my mind and literally demand that they be taught to God’s people….
1) WHY YOU STAYED IN THE WILDERNESS SO LONG. — Chapter 1.
“For this reason you stayed in Kadesh as long as you did” (1:46).
Originally, the trip through the Sinai wilderness was to have taken only a few months or a year at the most. It ended up taking forty years.
Nothing worked out as the Lord had hoped for His people. (I’m well aware that many will dispute this due to their theological slant. My simple response is: Read the Story.)
It’s clear that God had better plans for these people than what they chose.
In their journey through the desert-wilderness, God was a) preparing this ragtag army of ex-slaves for life in the Promised Land, b) was preparing them to face the military challenges lying before them, and c) was striving to get them to trust Him. If they could not trust Him, all bets were off and nothing would work.
“You did not trust the Lord your God” (1:32).
“You didn’t listen” (1:43).
The forty years Israel spent wandering around the wilderness had never been God’s original plan. But because this generation refused to believe Him and predicted in disgust that their children would die in that desert, God allowed that generation to be buried in the desert and for their children to inherit Canaan (see 1:39).
Sometimes we get what we ask for. And more.
Some of us are in the wilderness of our faith. God seems far away, His promises remote, and evidences for His presence few. Often, this resulted from our unbelief, a failure to obey Him, a refusal to walk by faith. Disobedience will always leave God’s children marking time in the wilderness until they repent and begin to obey.
“By this time you ought to be teachers!” (Hebrews 5:12). Get out of that wilderness! “Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ!” (2 Peter 3:18).
2) WHEN TO FIGHT AND WHEN TO WALK AWAY — Chapter 2.
“Don’t fight with them, for I will not give you any of their land, not even an inch of it….” (2:5).
Not all the hostile nations Israel encountered crossing foreign territory were to be their enemies in warfare. Some they were to ignore.
The newspaper reporters were commenting on President Theodore Roosevelt’s dog, a little mutt which always seemed to get beat up in fights. “Not much of a fighter is he, Mr. President?” TR replied, “Oh no–he’s a wonderful fighter! He’s just a poor judge of dog!”
Knowing whom to fight as well as when and how are major considerations for the Lord’s children. It was in Old Testament days and continues to be so today.
Some nations Israel encountered as they headed toward Canaan were fierce enemies and God had decided their time was up and that they needed to be put out of business. Others, however, were under His protection for one reason or other. So, God’s army was not sent on a Sherman’s-March-to-the-Sea to practice a scorched-earth policy. They were to stay close to the Lord and obey Him about each specific situation.
Someone told King David that the Philistines were outside, lined up for battle. Rather than let the enemy dictate his actions, David “inquired of the Lord” (2 Samuel 5:19).
“Should I go to war against the Philistines? Will you hand them over to me?” (5:19).
God said to go and he did, winning a great victory. A few days later, the stubborn Philistines were back, asking for more. Once again, “David inquired of the Lord” (5:23). This time, God told him to fight them, but in a different way.
We should not assume just because someone is opposing us, even harshly, that God wants us to “give as good as we get.” We who follow Jesus Christ have a solid word about this….
“But I say to you who hear, love your enemies. Do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you….” (Luke 6:27ff.)
We are to overcome evil with good.
Questions about this turning-the-other-cheek-business abound.
–Is the teaching to love our enemies for everyone? Answer: No, only “for you who hear.” Not everyone “hears” the Spirit of God. See I Corinthians 2:14. Not everyone “gets it.”
–Who are my enemies? Answer: Those who hate you, curse you, etc. (Luke 6:27) They make themselves that by how they treat you.
–What does it mean to “love my enemies”? Answer: Do good to them, bless them, pray for them, give to them. (Again, Luke 6:27) Biblically, love is not simply an emotion but “something you do.”
This is the “Jesus way” to clobber an enemy: With love. Martin Luther called this “left-handed power.” It looks like weakness, with its emphasis on humility and submission, loving, blessing, giving, serving, and even dying. Far from that, however, it’s the identical power that was on display when our Lord died on Calvary. W e know that to be the greatest force in the world.
This is how to destroy an enemy: turn him into a friend.
3) GOD’S TWO BEST GIFTS TO HIS PEOPLE — Chapter 4.
“For what great nation is there that has a god near to it as the Lord our God is to us, whenever we call to Him? And what great nation has righteous statutes and ordinances like this entire law I set before you today?” (4:7-8).
God has given His presence and His Word to His people. Himself and His Will. That’s about as good as it gets.
He is with us. He speaks to us. We are not on our own out here, left to do whatever we please. We actually know His will. Truly amazing.
Throughout the Old Testament, every time the Lord called someone into His service, they began to offer excuses. Without exception, God’s answer was always the same: “I will be with you.” (Check out Moses in Exodus 3; Joshua in Joshua 1, Gideon in Judges 6, and Jeremiah in Jeremiah 1.) In the New Testament, we have the same promise of His presence in Matthew 28:20, John 14:23, and Hebrews 13:5-6, among other places.
Furthermore, God gave His Word to His people. How blessed believers are to have both the Old and the New Testaments, the 66 books comprising our Holy Bible. We must not say the Old is all about law and the New about grace. It’s all grace, from beginning to the end, even the Law. This is what Moses is saying in Deuteronomy 4:8. How blessed we are to have these statutes and ordinances from Him.
The carnal mind wants to see the Ten Commandments as a strait jacket or dead weights God placed on HIs people to restrict them. (See Point #5 below.) To the contrary, these are fences to protect His people from the sinkholes, snares, and dangers of going our own way. A second trap which sometimes catches the Lord’s people is seeing the Commandments (or the full Law) as a means of salvation in those days (or now, for that matter). Not so. We notice that Exodus 20, where these 10 Commandments are first given, contains a provision for an altar (verses 24-25). The Lord is saying that even having the law, which tells us God’s mind and heart, is not going to save us; we will be needing a Savior. Every altar in the Old Testament points to the cross of Jesus. Every altar.
The Law is our schoolmaster, Paul said in Galatians 3:24, to bring us to Jesus.
Everything in the Old Testament prepares us for the coming of Jesus.
4) GOD KEEPS OFFERING THE REBELLIOUS A WAY BACK INTO HIS PRESENCE — chapter 4
Like an over-indulgent parent, the Lord’s patience seems endless. If you noticed this about the too-permissive father in the Prodigal story of Luke 15, you are not the first.
“But from there, you will search for the Lord your God, and you will find Him when you seek Him with all your heart and all your soul” (4:29).
Over and over, in Deuteronomy and throughout the rest of Scripture, God warns His people of the dangers of rebellion and neglect. “You will quickly perish from the land” (4:26). But this great God of mercy and compassion cannot leave things there. He always gives them hope by extending an invitation for them to wake up and get right.
“He will not leave you, destroy you, or forget the covenant with your fathers that He swore to them by oath, because the Lord your God is a compassionate God” (4:31). (Sounds a little like Hebrews 13:5-6).
That’s only amazing, is what it is.
The Lord’s people are so accustomed to thinking of God as pure love that we fail to realize He didn’t have to be. Nothing in the makeup of the universe requires the Creator to be a benevolent Deity. He could have been a tyrant who created humanity as playthings to toy with. (Which, incidentally, is a charge leveled against Him by the enemy and those in his service.)
There is no finer self-revelation of God than what He said to Moses in Exodus 34:6-7. There is nothing like this anywhere else in the Word, with the exception of all those places where it’s quoted.
“The Lord, the Lord God. Compassionate and gracious. Slow to anger, rich in faithful love and truth, maintaining faithful love to a thousand generations, forgiving iniquity, transgressions and sins. But He will not leave the guilty unpunished….”
Scriptures where this is quoted include Moses in Numbers 14:18, Nehemiah in Nehemiah 9:17, David in Psalms 103:8 and 104:4; Joel in Joel 2:13, and Jonah in Jonah 4:2. Snippets of it are found throughout the Psalms and the prophets. (Oddly, not a single place quotes it verbatim. I suspect this is because in the oral tradition, the speakers could not “turn in their Bibles to Exodus 34:6-7” but were going from memory. And this says to me that we should not get hung up on having to quote something exactly right every time, so long as we stay with the meaning.)
The eternal love of the Father is the wonder of the universe. His patience–His longsuffering–is one aspect of that. Scripture says we should account the longsuffering of God as our salvation (2 Peter 3:15). Indeed.
The problem in having a permissive, indulgent Father is that the rebellious child sees it as weakness. And so we have Psalm 50. “These things you have done (and gotten by with, God says). And as a result, you thought I was just like you.” (50:21). Bad mistake.
5) THE TEN COMMANDMENTS ARE REPEATED. Chapter 5.
We mentioned above that the first giving of the 10 Words, as they are called, is Exodus 20. Here Moses repeats them. They are worth a second look.
Ron Mehl’s wonderful book on these teachings is called “The Ten(der) Commandments.” I like that.
In his small book on the Commandments, Professor Roy Honeycutt wrote: “The ‘ten words’ are therefore ten disclosures of the will of God–ten concepts, or ten principles which the covenant people are to embody in their life before both God and man.” Then, he adds, “Beyond the words, we should seek the Lord. If we do this, then the Commandments will have much to say to us today, for principles do not change. While applications may have to be reshaped according to the demands of different generations, the ten words, or ten concepts, given by God are as changeless as the will and purpose of the God who gave them.”
The commandments, both here and in Exodus 20, divide into three groupings: Godward, Homeward, and Outward (external relationships).
The first, Godward commands, are to retain the holiness (separateness) of the Heavenly Father. He is not like us but superior in every way. He is holy, and must be honored as such. An idol (a graven image) diminishes Him, and such images are to be shunned. Taking God’s name in vain–whether in profanity or even religious foolishness–dishonors Him and soils His reputation. Thus, His day of worship is holy.
The second, Homeward commands, involves honoring parents and being faithful to one’s spouse.
Thirdly, the remaining commands were to sanctify life and property.
Even a casual glance at these shows they were a sound basis for laws governing societies at various times over the centuries.
We must note however that these were intended for God’s people living in God’s land. To coerce a pagan people to honor God, to purify their language, to go to worship, etc., is to misconstrue these Commands and to do more damage than good.
It helps to remember that, according to Acts 1:1ff, between the Lord’s resurrection and His ascension, a forty-day period, Jesus devoted Himself to giving to His followers commands for living (1:2), infallible proofs of His resurrection (1:3), insights about the Kingdom (1:3), and promises (1:4,8). These are for the Lord’s faithful and not for the world.
The most foolish thing God’s well-meaning children have ever done is try to force the unbelieving world to obey God’s teachings when they do not honor Christ as Lord.
As Moses said back in Deuteronomy 4:8, God’s “righteous statutes and ordinances” are for His people.
Finally, when a pastor or teacher gets into the Ten Commandments, the question always arises as to how binding they are to us today. Some have built entire denominations around their determination to keep all or parts of the law. To those who insist that the Law (all of it) is still binding on us today, we offer Romans and Galatians. And to those who would insist that the Sabbath Day commands are still binding on us, we offer Colossians 2:16. These are as solid as it’s possible to get.