Deu-ter-on-omy….It’s hard enough to pronounce let alone read the seemingly never ending thirty four chapters! In fact if you do venture to read this book you will soon find yourself asking ‘Did I not read this before?’ You see most of what we find in Deuteronomy has already been said in the previous three books of Exodus, Leviticus and Numbers. So why should we be bothered to read it?
Another struggle with the book is there is not much action – nothing really happens. Exodus at least has the drama of the plagues and rescue, Leviticus makes us squirm with all the details of how to slaughter animals and Numbers for all it’s counting keeps us engaged with the the miraculous provisions in the desert and the odd battle too. But Deuteronomy has no action, all that happens is Moses dies: ‘And Moses the servant of the Lord died…as the Lord said’ 34v5, and even at that ‘no-one knows where his grave is.’ v6 However the death of Moses is very significant and it gives us the clue to understanding the whole book.
Who will replace Moses?
Moses was first introduced to us back in Exodus 2 when Israel were in slavery for four hundred years. God called and chose Moses to lead his people out of slavery. For the following forty years Moses led the people of God as God spoke through him. It was God who spoke to his people through Moses. Forty years later, Israel are standing on the East side of the Jordan ready to cross over into the promised land. But there is one person who is not going to make it. Right at the beginning of Deuteronomy Moses reminds the people of what God said: ‘Because of you the Lord became angry with me also and said, You shall not enter it, either.’ 1v37. Even when Moses asks God if he can go over God is emphatic in his response: That is enough…do not speak to me any more about this matter…look at the land with your own eyes, since you are not going to cross this Jordan.’ 3v26-27. Then at the end of Deuteronomy we are reminded twice more that Moses will not go to the promised land: ‘I am now a hundred and twenty years old and I am no longer able to lead you. The Lord has said to me ‘You shall not cross the Jordan’ 31v2, and then finally God again reminds Moses: ‘This is the land I promised..I have let you see it with your own eyes, but you will not cross over into it.’ 34v4.
We are left with the people ready to enter the promised land but their leader is not going with them, in fact the book closes with his death. So the big question is who will lead the people as they venture into the promised land, who will speak to them from God?
Well Deuteronomy is a collection of final sermons from Moses to the people. It is a summary (Deuteronomy means second law), a repeat of all that God has spoken to the people. So while Moses will not be going with them God’s word will. That’s why no one knows the place where Moses is buried. It’s not important! We are to leave Deuteronomy not remembering Moses as a great leader but trusting that God’s word will sustain us and keep us as we journey on. It’s God’s word that will lead the people. Moses realises this as he faces his imminent death: ‘So Moses wrote down this law and gave it to the priests….when all Israel comes to appear before the Lord your God at the place he will choose, you shall read this law in their hearing. Assemble the men, women and children, and all the outsiders living in your towns so that they can listen and learn to fear the Lord your God and follow carefully all the words of this law.’ 31v9, 12 Yes other people will be chosen in place of Moses but they lead by speaking God’s word to the people.
Hearing God’s word
Since the book is a collection of sermons the emphasis is on careful listening: ‘Hear (50 times) now O Israel, the decrees and laws I am about to teach (7 times) you. Follow (16 times) them so that you may live and may go in and take possession of the land…Do not add to what I command you to do and do not subtract from it but keep/observe (170 times) the commands that I give you.’ 4v1-2
God’s word is to be central to their life and living, because how they respond to it will be their life or death: ‘See I set before you today life and prosperity, death and destruction…now choose life so that you and your children may live and that you will love the Lord your God., listen to his voice and hold fast to him. For the Lord is your life…’ 30v15, 19-20.
In fact the reason they wandered in the desert for forty years instead of entering the promised land is because they ‘rebelled against the command of the Lord your God’ 1v26..’in spite of his word you did not trust the Lord your God.’ 1v32.
So the people are commanded: ‘Do not turn aside to the right or the left. Walk in all the way that the Lord has commanded you so that you may live..’ 5v32, 28v14
Ultimately the call to hear God’s word is a call to choose Christ.
Jesus Christ comes as the ‘word of God’ John 1v1, he is the ultimate ‘Moses’ and in his words are life: ‘I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life.’ John 5v24.
Moses spoke of the Christ to come: ‘The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own brothers. You must listen to Him’ 18v15. God said of this prophet: ‘I will put my words in his mouth..If anyone does not listen to my words that the prophet speaks in my name, I myself will call to account.’ 18v18-19
So as we read Deuteronomy we are hearing Christ and as we listen, we are called to choose Christ, the true prophet and the one who has come to give us life in all it’s fulness.
(This life is seen in four themes that progress through Deuteronomy. We will look at these tomorrow)