Relevant Verses: 2 Kings 22; Jer 7:1–7; 29:13; Dan 9:1–19
Theme: The Importance of Deuteronomy for the Prophets
Leading Question: Why is a book of law book important?
Scott Redd, Bible scholar and president of the Reformed Theological Seminary in Washington D.C asks, “What would Plato be without Socrates, or Timothy without Paul, or Luther without Augustine, or Foucault without Nietzsche, or Bob without Woody, or Elvis, The Beatles, and every hair-spritzed glam rocker to follow them without the blues riff? Ask this and you get a sense of the architectonic influence that the book of Deuteronomy has over the prophet Jeremiah … Jeremiah drank deeply of the theological vintage of the book of Deuteronomy.”
Most Bible scholars link the discovery in 622 B.C. of the “Book of the Law of Moses” (2 Chron 34:14; 2 Kings 22:8) to the book of Deuteronomy. Two parallel accounts, 2 Kings 22–23 and 2 Chronicles 34–35 provide details about the finding of the book and king Josiah’s reform actions taken in connection with the repairs of the Temple. As a consequence of reading Book of the Law, the king ordered the removal of the cultic objects installed by Manasseh (2 Kings 23:4ff.). Second Chronicles 34–35, informs us that the Temple, which was ruined by the previous kings of Judah (2 Chron 34:11), underwent repairs followed by the restoration of the priestly services and festivals.
Question: What lessons can we draw from the rediscovery of the “Book of the Law” in the time of King Josiah?
Jeremiah receives his prophetic calling during this time of Temple reform. How would he have understood Deuteronomy? Redd writes, “Imagine you were a constitutional lawyer, and a new clause of the Constitution is discovered, one that fills in some previous lacuna of the document and further connects ideas which you had always thought to be unsourced. This new discovery would occupy your thoughts, reframing everything you knew before. Now imagine an exhaustive review of the government was called for by the president in light of this discovery, and you were involved in the investigation. It would be kind of a big deal.”
For this reason, the life and prophecies of Jeremiah might be described as an extended exploration of the theology of Deuteronomy in the late pre-exilic period. No doubt due to the rediscovery of the aw book and King Josiah’s subsequent reforms (2 Kings 22-23), the covenant looms large in the imagination of the prophet who is called to minister to the kings and the people in Jerusalem and Judah through their final days before the exile. Deuteronomic language pervades the prophet’s sermons and prayers, including his call narrative (Jer 1:5–12), which borrows language from Deut 18:15–19. The Temple Sermon in Jeremiah 7 illustrates Jeremiah’s concern for the “sojourner, the orphan, and the widow” (Jer 7:6), which is a common Deuteronomic refrain (Deut 18:6; 23:8; 24:17; 27:19). The allegations against the leadership in Jerusalem are heightened in light of the holiness of the Temple which bears the Lord’s name (Jer 7:14; or Shiloh, Jer 7:12), and their disobedience to the voice of the Lord (Jer 7:28; cf. Deut 8:20; 13:18; 15:5; 21:18; 27:10; 28:1, 2, 15, 45, 62; 30:8, 10).
Question: While the repeating of the law takes up much of the book, what is the essential message of Deuteronomy?
Perhaps more than any other part Jeremiah’s theology of the heart is strongly evocative of the same in Deuteronomy focus on love and repentance which are to come from the heart, are particularly emphasized in the book of Jeremiah. The Shema (Deut 6:4–9) which calls for a love that is whole-heartedly devoted to the Lord turns into Jeremiah’s call drawing the peoples’ attention to their own great deficit of heart. Their hearts are depicted as “deceitful above all and desparately sick” (Jer 17:9). Jeremiah borrows the image of a circumcised heart from Deuteronomy (Jer 4:4; cf. Deut 10:16; 30:6) to explain how covenantal faithfulness must be a matter of a person’s inner life and not merely the outer body. Unless the people repent sincerely and “wash [their] evil hearts” (Jer 4:10-14), they will suffer judgment.
Furthermore, the heart problem facing Judah can only be remedied by the Lord’s provision of a “new heart,” a heart of faithfulness, which will come about as a result of exile. With this new heart, the remnat of the exile will be equipped to seek the Lord with their “whole hearts” (Jer 24:7; 29:11–14), and this new heart will have the law of the Lord written upon it that it might never be forgotten (Jer 31:31–34). For Jeremiah, this new heart is the center of the New Covenant for them and for their children (Jer 32:38–39).
Question: What does Deuteronomy have to say to us today?