Posted: March 24th, 2023

Overview of The Book of Deuteronomy

Introduction

The Book of Deuteronomy addresses aspects of unity between God and the Israelites. Moses wrote it to reveal two elements. Firstly, the book indicates God’s communication with people who loved and served Him.[1] The words in chapter four evidence this factNow, O Israel, listen to the statutes and the judgments which I am teaching you to perform, so that you may live and go in and take possession of the land which the Lord, the God of your fathers, is giving you.” [2] The call to holiness by Moses also affirms commitment by those who followed God and rejected other gods worshiped in captivity. Secondly, the Book of Deuteronomy addresses the wickedness among the Israelites and the renewed commitment through the commandments.[3] The Mosaic covenant was made to unify God and Israel through respect, veneration, and holiness.[4]  Therefore, Deuteronomy discusses the previous and present relationship between God and the Israelites in regard to His covenant and the benefits of observing His commandments.

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The Book of Deuteronomy illustrates God’s instructions to the Israelites through Moses. The people had camped on the east of the Jordan on the plains of Moab around the city of Jericho.[5] In this place, they were given instructions to follow the commandments of God. After years of suffering, God gave them a set of laws to follow in the new land they were to conquer. Notably, God promised their ancestors several centuries earlier that He would provide land flowing with milk and honey.[6] Therefore, the book reveals how God fulfills the promise He made to the people of Israel.

Moses Addresses the People of Israel

The significance of the Book of Deuteronomy consists of the address delivered by Moses to the Israelites. The restatement of the Ten Commandments demonstrates the call to a renewed commitment to God. The speech to the people of Israel, “The Lord did not make this covenant with our fathers, but with us, with all those of us alive today. The Lord spoke to you face to face at the mountain from the midst of the fire.”[7] The message seeks to rededicate the people to God to obey and follow the commandments. Secondly, the covenant is renewed directly with them and not through their ancestors as it was previously. Moses interprets the commandments, which entails living a sanctified life in obedience to and love of God. Accordingly, He expects a life of holiness even to children through a re-affirmation of the precepts.[8] The commitment of children and other heirs of Israel to the commandments forms the basis of holiness and submission to God in the Mosaic Law.[9] The promise requires the Israelites to acknowledge God’s oneness and observe the laws without any influence from the practices of other communities they interact with. Therefore, the Mosaic Law promulgated on Mount Sinai is a process of God engaging in a covenant of grace with the people. The commandment allows the Israelites to choose either blessings or curses and hence leave with or without the abundant grace in God. .[10] Therefore, the illustration of Moses in chapter 12 indicates the life of grace through the forgiveness of sins.

Faithfulness to God is Obedience to the Law

God expects the people of Israel to be faithful. He is faithful as described by the words of Moses, “Know therefore that the Lord your God, He is God, the faithful God, who keeps His covenant and His loving-kindness to a thousandth generation with those who love Him and keep His commandments.”[11] Therefore, since God is truthful in keeping the promises made to the old patriarchs, the Deuteronomy outlines a similar expectation for the people. For instance, He promises punishment to those who succumb to evil.[12] The Deuteronomy carries a four-principle oration communicated by God through Moses, including keeping the law of God, the covenant with the people, blessing and curses, and the ardent reminder to observe the commandments.[13] The four aspects develop a trajectory for the Israelites to manage their livelihoods. The passage in chapter 30 epitomizes the section: “See, I have today set before you life and good, death and evil. If you obey the commandments of the Lord, your God, which I am giving you today…”[14] Therefore, faithfulness is defined as observing the law, avoiding curses, and living in a state of blessing.

Deuteronomy promises to gather the Circumcised in the Heart

Identity was a significant goal when Moses communicated to the Israelites. The emphasis on God’s chosen people is an important affirmation of the place of Israel in God’s plan. Hence, the words of God to Abraham, “this is my covenant, which you shall keep, between Me and you and your descendants after you: every male among you shall be circumcised. And you shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskin, and it shall be the sign of the covenant between Me and you,” the physical identity of the Israelites as dependents of Abraham who follow the commandments. However, Paul develops a progressive philosophy of spiritual identity through the circumcision of the heart. Besides

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Circumcision is a symbol of dedication to God. Hence, Moses states, “So circumcise your heart, and stiffen your neck no longer. For the Lord your God is the God of gods and the Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God who does not show partiality nor take a bribe.”[20] Therefore, the Israelites are expected to fundamentally change beyond the physical purification of the body and achieve inward transformations and turn to God.[21] The mnemonic illustration of the circumcised foreskin and the heart is a divine symbol and physical mark of distinction that exemplifies the unity of body and soul in a covenant with God.[22] Since removing a foreskin is permanent, the circumcision of the heart is equally a radical change of heart in the grace of God.[23] Hence, the circumcision as a mark of choice to belong to God has progressively changed from Abrahamic symbol of the foreskin to the time of Moses and Paul, where a radical change of heart is anticipated. Notably, circumcision is not a future activity but a continuous process that entails a change of heart to gain the benefits and blessing revealed in the Book of Deuteronomy.

Conclusion

Moses rededicates the people of Israel to God by restating the commandments given on the mountain. As the Israelites prepare to cross the river Jordan and enter the Promised Land, obedience to God becomes paramount. Hence, the instructions in the Deuteronomy explain the life that God wants them to live. He indicates that the law written in the people’s heart is a symbol and expectations of Israelites way of life. Therefore, God invites the Israelites for circumcision of the heart, which goes beyond gender and community to all believers who follow His teachings. Through the sacrifice of animals, people’s commitment to God was renewed. Given that there is no forgiveness without pouring of blood, Moses exemplifies the life of grace and holiness through sacrifice and acceptance of a life of grace through the forgiveness of sins.

 

 Bibliography

Liang, Lawrence, JY. “On That Heart-Knotting Feeling: An Outline.” Master’s thesis, The University of Western Ontario, 2017.

Marfo, Elisha Kwabena, and Henry Mark Tembo. “An Exegetical Study of Deuteronomy 6:4 and Its Educational/Missiological Implication in Africa” Journal of AIIAS African Theological Association 6, (2017): 74-84. https://journals.aiias.edu/aata/article/view/370.

Schreiner, Thomas, R. The King in His Beauty. Grand Rapids: , 2013.

The Holy Bible, New American Standard Version. The Lockman Foundation. 1995. https://www.biblegateway.com/versions/New-American-Standard-Bible-NASB.

 

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