Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Introduction to the Book of Deuteronomy

 Deuteronomy offers a vision for God’s people for living out God’s holy love faithfully as a witness to the nations. The book of Deuteronomy serves a dual focus. It uses Israel’s past as a warning against disobedience. But it simultaneously invites the present generation to a life of faithful obedience as the means to enjoying life with God. The LORD liberated God’s people from Egypt as a means of freeing them to serve the LORD as God’s holy people.

The name Deuteronomy comes from the Greek translation of 17:18 meaning “second Law.” There is a core section of legal materials (5:6–21 and 12:1–26:19), but the overall shape of Deuteronomy conforms more with the Hebrew name for the book “These are the words.” More than any other part of the Pentateuch, Deuteronomy is primarily speech. Moses the central human character in Genesis–Deuteronomy offers a series of addresses crafted to shape the present generation for God’s mission. The situation imagined in Deuteronomy finds God’s people Israel in Moab on the eastern banks of the Jordan river poised for a movement into the Promised Land. Moses will not accompany God’s people, but he delivers a speech to galvanize God’s people for the mission ahead. The Instruction of Moses will define the character of God’s people and provide authoritative guidance for living the liberated life.

Deuteronomy’s Wesleyan vision of God’s people as a holy people is compelling. 

First, Deuteronomy envisions a dynamic relationship between God and God’s people.  The pattern is this: God acts graciously acts for Israel and God’s people respond by living faithfully. God loves God’s people (7:8). God’s gracious love delivered Israel from Egypt and now stands ready to make good on God’s earlier promises of land to Israel ancestors. Deuteronomy understands the relationship between God and God’s people in covenantal terms. In the Old Testament, covenant is the means of formalizing the relationship. Deuteronomy offers a covenant reaffirmation by God’s people as they prepare to enter into the Promised Land (Deut 30:15–20). 

Second, love serves as the defining center of God’s people’s relationship with the LORD. The Shema or Great Commandment (Deut 6:4–5) calls for a whole person response of love to the reality of the LORD as the unique one and only God for God’s people. 

Third, Deuteronomy helps to shape a Wesleyan understanding of sanctification as having a fully devoted heart toward God. Deuteronomy introduces the phrase “circumcision of the heart” to our vocabulary (10:16, 30:6). This command flows from Deuteronomy’s focus on love as the motivation of God’s people in response to God’s love . Whole hearted devotion is rooted in the commandment against idolatry and articulated positively in Great Commandment. The allegiance to the LORD as the “one and only” involves turning from all other gods or temptations in order to serve and love only the LORD. 
Reading Deuteronomy helps us to recognize that Wesley’s doctrine of Christian perfection involves both our will and the work of God in freeing us from all prior allegiances to live fully as God’s people. 

Fourth, faithfulness in relationship is understood in terms of action. God’s people respond to God’s grace with love, fear, obedience, service, by walking in God’s ways, by clinging to the LORD, and by keeping the commandments (Deut 10:12–13, 20). 

Last, Deuteronomy presents the life of holy love as the good life. God’s people will enjoy secure life in the land by carefully living out the Scriptural revelation given through Moses. The exhortation “Choose life” (30:19) summarizes the choice between faithfulness and unfaithfulness as a decision for good. Likewise it signals God’s good intentions for God’s people as they live as his witnesses in the world.

Outline of the book of Deuteronomy

I. 1:1–4:43 Israel’s Past
A. 1:1–5 These are the Words
B. 1:6–46 Failure to Possess the Land
C.  The LORD’s Recent Victories (2:1–3:29)
D. 4:1–43 Exhortation to Faithfulness

II. 4:44–11:32 The Heart of Faithfulness
A. The Instruction of Moses (4:44–49)
B. The Ten Commandments (5:1–33)
C. Israel’s One True Love (6:1–25)
D. The False Gods of Faithlessness (7:1–
E. Loving Commitment (11:1–32)

III. 12:1–28:68 Core Covenantal Commitments
A. Worship as One Holy People (12:1–28)
B. Organizing God's Holy People (12:29–17:13)
C. Leaders Under the Instruction (17:14–18:22)
D. Practicing Justice as God’s Holy People (19:1–25:19)
E. Celebrating the Land as One Holy People (26:1–19)
F. The Blessings and Curses (27:1–28:68)

IV.  29:1–32:52 Choosing Life through Covenant Faithfulness
A. Warnings Against Disobedience (29:1–29)
B. Agenda for Restoration and Renewal (30:1–14)
C. The Call to Choose Life by Aligning Fully with the LORD (30:15–20)
D. Preparing for Moses’ Departure (31:1–29)
E. The Song of Moses 31:30–32:52

V.  33:1–34:12 Final Blessings and the Death of Moses
A. The Blessing of Moses (33:1–29)
B. The Death of Moses (34:1–12)

Select Bibliography
Brueggemann, Walter. Abingdon Old Testament Commentaries: Deuteronomy. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2001.

McBride, S. Dean, Jr. “Polity of the Covenant People: The Book of Deuteronomy” Interpretation 41 (1987): 229–44.

Miller, Patrick D. Deuteronomy: Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching (Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching & Preaching). Louisville: John Knox Press, 1990.

Moberly, R. W. L. Old Testament Theology: Reading the Hebrew Bible as Christian Scripture. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2013.

Olson, Dennis T. Deuteronomy and the Death of Moses: A Theological Reading. Overtures to Biblical Theology. Minneapolis: Fortress, 1994. (Out of print) Reprinted: Deuteronomy and the Death of Moses: A Theological Reading. Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 2005.

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