The book of Deuteronomy is Moses’ final sermon before he dies; his Swan song. As the scene fades up from black on the opening page of Deuteronomy we see a 120 year old Moses standing in front of the children of the freed slaves. It has been 40 years since the people who had been miraculously delivered from Pharaoh’s hand had rebelled for the last time against God at Kadesh-Barnea. When the 10 spies said that they did not think the Israelites could defeat the “Anakites” (the giants) God punished their disbelief and made them wander in the desert for 40 years until every last adult of that generation had died off.
Moses himself had dishonored God and had been denied access to the Promised Land. Beside him, now, stood his successor, Joshua, standing ready to lead the next generation into the land that God had promised to Abraham so many centuries earlier.
Deuteronomy 6:1-9 is known as the Shema. It is the Hebrew word listen or hear. Moses instructs the second generation of freed slaves to listen to God’s words and to love God with their whole hearts.
Deuteronomy 30:15-20 offers a dramatic summary of Moses’ epic sermon. He divides the people in half. One half stands on one side of a valley, the other half stands on the other side. He has them shout back and forth, “Life! Death! Blessings! Curses!” Then he says, “Choose Life”
That is the basic message of Deuteronomy. God wants you to have the abundant life. Choose to live it.
Imagine what Moses must have been feeling and thinking as he looked out over that vast crowd. Before him stood the future of God’s people. He remembered the mistakes their parents had made and the terrible consequences they had suffered. He knew the temptations that lay ahead of these kids. This second generation had never known anything other than the manna of God for food. They had never known any life other than the barren desert soil crunching under their perpetually nomadic existence. Moses knew that as soon as they crossed over the Jordan they would be exposed to potential distractions that could derail their lives. They would own fertile farmland with fresh water that could cause them to forget the true supplier of their needs. They would be exposed to cultures that were saturated with a pulsating, sensuous, mysterious pagan worship that enticed the eye, the flesh, and the ego.
It must have been like a father who is driving his child to college for the first time. What do you say in the final moments of that drive? You know that both in the classroom and in the dorm room that precious child will be exposed to ideas and situations that they had never dreamed of before. What words of wisdom and words of warning can you give to that innocent child? Moses was faced with the same situation. He had one last chance to give his words of wisdom and warning to his children before they crossed over to the land of Canaan.
As you read this book, try to hear it through the ears of this young generation, and also try to see it through the eyes of the soon-departing Moses.
Enjoy this video from The Bible Project
One of the best ways to summarize Deuteronomy is to focus on its key words.
Heart and Soul
9 times throughout Moses’ sermon, in key points, he reminds the people to love God with their heart and soul. The word “heart” is the Hebrew word leb which is translated both “heart” and “mind” in different places. The leb was the human center of the person. It was the mind, the will, the place from which all behavior is directed. The word “soul” is the Hebrew word nephesh and refers to the deep inner, spiritual core of the person. Here is where the emotional, non-rational center of the person dwells. As 21st century students of psychological types we may translate this phrase, “Love God with the full Thinking/Logic and the Feeling/Intuitive aspects of your inner self.” More simply put, we can translate it, “Love God with your whole self, inside and out, not just a feeling, and not just in following the rules.”
Remember (Don’t Forget)
The human tendency is to forget. No matter how difficult times may be in a person’s life, a few months of prosperity can make the pain and suffering disappear into a foggy, distant, unreal dream. Part of the purpose for the strictness of the Law and the rituals in it was to force the people to not forget their history and the one who is their deliverer.
The law of God, as Jesus later taught us, can be summed up in the word love. We are to love God and love others. In the midst of all the details regarding boundary stones, infectious skin diseases, and sacrificial festivals, don’t forget that the heart of the law is love. God does not want our external behavior, He wants our heart. When the heart is surrendered to God’s kind of love, then the behavior will naturally flow.
We are called to serve God. The only way we can love is to remove ourselves from the throne of our self-made kingdom and acknowledge that there is only one King and only one Kingdom. We exist to bring honor and glory to the King. That King loves us, and as soon as we submit to Him He will fill us with meaning and will overflow in our lives with joy.
The love of God is a very abstract concept. The Kingdom of God — living in relational unity with God in a spiritual reality — is a very abstract concept that is perpetually drowned out by the distractions of the physical world in which we live. God has created a path of law and the spiritual disciplines that we can follow that will open the gate to the Kingdom of God. However, this path is counter-intuitive to our physical, fleshly nature and is very difficult to begin.
In the movie, The Karate Kid, the young man sought the mentorship of the karate master, Mr. Miagi. The boy wanted to learn karate, but Mr. Miagi told him to wax cars. Mr. Miagi looked him in the eye and said, “Do you want to learn? Then you obey. Now, wax car.” The boy did not know why he was waxing cars and sanding decks, he only knew that he wanted to learn karate, that his master told him to do this, and that, if he did not obey, he would no longer be under the mentoring of the master. In the moment of waxing he was frustrated, but he had to simply obey.
That is how it is with God. He has given us principles of truth and love. It is not ours to question, but to obey.
Blessings and Curses
The language of blessings and curses in Deuteronomy are very foreign to our ears. It makes it seem like God’s Kingdom is based on a system of good works wherein one must work hard in order to earn passage into the Kingdom. The following clip deals with this nicely.
Typical of ancient Near Eastern covenant documents, Deuteronomy contains…blessings and curses promised on the basis of Israel’s response of obedience. This …furnishes the basis on which the prophets preached repentance to later generations of Israel (e.g., Amos 4:6–13). As testified by the arguments of Job’s friends, however (cf. Job 8:3–7, 20–22; 11:13–20; 15:20–35), the corporate and national focus of these promises was often missed, even in biblical times. The blessings and curses came to be removed from their covenant context and were applied contractually to individuals, so that wealth was regarded as symptomatic of righteousness, and suffering as consequential of sin. Jesus flatly declared this to be false (John 9:3; cf. Matt. 19:23–25). Although immeasurable blessings of every kind were (and are) promised to men and women of faith, receipt of material blessings was not necessarily assured in this life (unless they were specifically promised to an individual, as they were to Abraham). Material as well as spiritual blessings in this life were being promised in Deut. 28 only to the righteous nation of Israel.1
1New Geneva study Bible. 1997, c1995 (electronic ed.) (Dt 28:1). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.