Relevant Verses: Exodus 19:4-8
Theme: Loyalty as a Response to God’s Love
Leading Question: Freedom and Order: Can They Coexist?
Deuteronomy is arguably the most influential book of the Old Testament. It brings the Pentateuch to a climactic conclusion. The title, Deuteronomy, is borrowed from the Greek translation, meaning, “Second Law.” In a certain sense this is an apt description because it does repeat many of the laws, including the Ten Commandments, that are found in earlier books of the Pentateuch. The language of Deuteronomy is often inspiring and poetic, portrayed from a retrospective view as the Israelites complete their period of wandering the the wilderness and prepare to enter the Land of Canaan. It is the source of the famous Jewish prayer known as the Shema (Deut 6:4) and the well-known injunction, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength (Deut 6:5), taught by Jesus in Matt 22:37. Echoes of Deuteronomy are found in other prophetic books, especially in Jeremiah.
Among modern biblical scholars, Deuteronomy is much discussed. It is considered to have been composed in the seventh century B.C.E. as part of king Josiah’s program to centralize worship exclusively in the Temple of Jerusalem.
Deuteronomy reviews God’s gracious acts with Israel and lays the foundation for a humanitarian vision for community life. The book contains Moses’ passionate farewell address to Israel cast into the form of an ancient covenant document. Its content is God’s faithfulness to His promises to the the forefathers of Israel manifested in the miraculous exodus event and in the instructions to a liberated nation. The people of Israel are called to respond to God’s grace with unreserved love and loyalty.
Question: How do you view God’s laws – as a barrier to keep those out whou don’t obey or as a protective fence? A burden or a gift? And, why?
The 120-year-old Moses reminds the Israelites of God’s faithfulness and His promises given to their ancestors. The establishing of the Sinai covenant (Exod 19-24) constitutes the backbone for the challenge to remain obedient to God especially in view of the temptations that they would face among the nations of Canaan. In order to motivate the people for the new beginnings in the Promised Land Moses casts his speeches into the framework of a new covenant relationship between God and Israel that places the young people into their parents’ footsteps when they crossed the Red Sea and encountered God at Mount Sinai. Each individual Israelite is called to experience the same redemptive events and respond to them in trust and obedience.
Question: If love is all God aks of us why should we follow laws?
The practical form of love for God is not to be confined to religious duties but is to embrace the social and domestic life. The laws in chaps. 12–26 contain details for the moral and social well-being of the nation. Love of God translates into love of one’s neighbor. Any act that couldharm a neighbor is to be avoided. The moral principles in Deuteronomy are justice, integrity, equity, philanthropy, and generosity. Judges are to be appointed in every city to administer justice with the strictest impartiality so that these principles are followed (26:18–20). Fathers are not to be condemned judicially for the crimes of their children; nor children for the crimes of their fathers (24:16). Just weights and measures are to be used in all commercial transactions (25:13-16). Grave moral offenses are punished severely (21:18-21; 22:20-27; 24:7).
Compassion and charity are to be shown toward those who suffer hardship, such as one who needs a loan (15:7-11), a slave at the time of his manumission (15:13-15), a fugitive (13:15, 16), a hired servant (14:14, 15), the “stranger [i.e., resident foreigner, immigrant, or refugee], the orphan, and the widow” (cf. 14:29). Israel’s recollection of its own past is evoked in order to promote gratitude and a sense of sympathy toward the needy (10:19, “For you were strangers in the land of Egypt,” cf. 15:15; 16:12; 24:18, 22; “and you shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt”). Deuteronomy promotes a spirit of tolerance, equity, and regard for the feelings and welfare of others as no other book of the Old Testament does. Israel is to live within an atmosphere of generous devotion to God and benevolence toward other human beings.
Question: What are some of the take-aways for us today from a book that seems to be all about laws and requirements for Israel?