Old Testament Survey - Lesson 11

Deuteronomy: The Covenant Renewed

This lesson examines the book of Deuteronomy, focusing on the covenant renewal on the plains of Moab for Abraham's descendants. This lesson highlights Deuteronomy's role as a profound teaching tool rather than a legal code, with Moses delivering key speeches that include pastoral and farewell addresses. It parallels the Gospel of John by reflecting on past events and their implications. The lesson provides understanding of "torah" (teaching), Moses' speeches' structure, and the spiritual importance of the covenant, portraying Moses as a teacher of Yahweh's will.

Daniel Block
Old Testament Survey
Lesson 11
Watching Now
Deuteronomy: The Covenant Renewed

I. Background and Context

A. Historical Setting

1. Time gap of 40 years from the events at Sinai

2. Geographical context—an 11-day journey from Sinai, delayed to 38 years

B. Comparison with the Gospel of John

1. Reflection on significant events over decades

2. The theological nature of Deuteronomy

C. Concept of Torah in Deuteronomy

1. Torah as teaching, not just legal material

2. Includes various forms of writing and instruction

II. Theological and Literary Significance of Deuteronomy

A. The Nature of Torah

1. Interpretation and translation of 'torah'

2. Moses' role as a teacher, not a legislator

B. Structure of Deuteronomy

1. Identification of Deuteronomy as Moses' speeches

2. The covenant renewal on the plains of Moab

III. Moses' Final Addresses

A. Content of the Addresses

1. Summarization of four main speeches

2. Themes of covenant and teaching

B. Moses' Role and Methodology

1. Emphasis on Moses as a teacher

2. Use of teaching to enact Torah

IV. Covenant Renewal Rituals

A. Process of Covenant Renewal

1. Assembly of Israelites

2. Presentation and affirmation of the Torah

B. The Covenant's Components

1. Verbal binding of the covenant partners

2. Formal recognition of the Israelites as Yahweh's people

V. Deuteronomy’s Broader Implications

A. The Good News of Deuteronomy

1. Emphasis on the gospel within the community

2. Representation in visual art and family discovery

B. The Law and Its Theological Implications

1. Understanding of law beyond traditional commandments

2. Law as a response to divine grace and covenant relationship

VI. Conclusion and Reflective Application

A. Summary of Deuteronomy’s Message

1. Requirement of God for the Israelites according to Moses

2. The broader application of the Torah's teaching

B. Moses' Legacy and Future Study Opportunities

1. Implications of Moses' teachings on future generations

2. Resources and further study on Deuteronomy

  • Learning about the First Testament's language, geographical, and cultural contexts, and how these factors contribute to its frequent misinterpretation and underappreciation in modern times.
  • Gain insights into the literary and cosmic foundations of grace and glory in the Torah, understanding its role as more than law.
  • Learn that to be made in God's image entails embodying divine qualities and functioning as His representative on Earth, which extends a universal dignity upon all humans and shapes a theological ethic that influences how you treat others.
  • Genesis 1-3 frames human response to divine creation, emphasizing human dignity, work's moral role, free will's consequences, and the persistent grace amid sin.
  • This lesson reviews the Israelite covenant, understanding its stages, implications, and its role in God's redemptive plan.
  • Gain insights into Abraham's covenant with God, exploring his faith and God's promises.
  • Learn how the Exodus from Egypt marked Israel's transformation from a family to a nation under Yahweh.
  • Understand how the covenant at Sinai transforms Israel from slaves into a treasured nation destined for a divine mission, fulfilling God's ancient promises.
  • This lesson covers the covenantal expectations at Sinai. The covenantal agreement provided a constitutional and ethical framework for societal living, focusing on community rights and responsibilities.
  • In this lesson, you gain insight into how the tabernacle was both a physical manifestation of God's presence and a profound symbol of His grace, emphasizing the holiness and detailed guidance He provided to the Israelites for worship and daily life.
  • Gain insights into Deuteronomy, recognizing its focus on teaching rather than legislation, and understanding Moses' role as an instructor of Yahweh's will.
  • In this lesson, you explore how to interpret the First Testament's historiographic writings, emphasizing the divine inspiration and literary artistry that guide the selective storytelling and theological themes.
  • Learn how the books of Joshua and Judges illustrate the fulfillment and failure of Israel's covenant with Yahweh, highlighting divine promise, cultural assimilation, and the cyclical nature of faith and apostasy.
  • The Book of Ruth, highlights divine providence, social justice, and personal righteousness while exploring the role of Boaz as a pivotal figure in maintaining the lineage of King David.
  • Samuel had a significant yet complex role in Israel's history; judge, priest, prophet, and crucial figure in establishing monarchy.
  • Learn of David's central role in the Bible, understanding his unique portrayal and the extensive attention he receives compared to other figures.
  • Learn about the Davidic covenant's role in shaping biblical history and theology, emphasizing its eternal impact on Israel and beyond.
  • The books of Kings and Chronicles use historical events to underline theological themes, highlighting the role of scribes in documenting Israel’s history.
  • In this lesson on 1 and 2 Kings, review the downfall of Israel through kings' forgetfulness of God's covenants.
  • Learn about Solomon's temple's historical and theological significance, its divine design and purpose, and its role in Israelite worship and communal life.
  • Gain insights into the transformation and resilience of the Judean people during their exile in Babylon from 586-539 BC, exploring their struggles and adaptations in a new socio-political and religious context.
  • Learn about Daniel's exemplary life in Babylon, his integrity, and his prophetic visions, which highlight divine sovereignty and the vindication of the faithful amidst calamities.
  • Review the Persian period's impact on the Jewish diaspora, analyze the Book of Esther's literary and theological significance, and reflect on divine providence and cultural identity.
  • Explore the crucial roles of Ezra and Nehemiah in reconstructing the Jewish community and faith post-exile, understanding their historical significance, source materials, and theological insights.
  • Gain insight into the roles and significance of prophets in ancient Israel, learning about their historical context, and their critical function in guiding and correcting the nation through direct communication from Yahweh.
  • Learn about the lives and ministries of prophets Amos and Hosea, their calls for justice and return to divine covenant amidst Israel's political and spiritual turmoil, through prophetic books that blend personal biography with national prophecy.
  • This lesson reviews Jonah's struggle with divine grace and Micah's advocacy for justice and the messianic hope.
  • In this lesson, you learn how Isaiah's vision portrays the Messiah as king, servant, and conqueror, emphasizing his divine roles and global mission.
  • Learn of the political and social contexts of Jeremiah and Ezekiel's exile, including Babylon's rise, Jerusalem's fall, and the crisis of faith portrayed in Lamentations, emphasizing hope amid despair through God's faithfulness.
  • Learn about Jeremiah's life and prophetic ministry, navigating challenges with kings, themes in the Book of Jeremiah, and profound passages on true religion and a future covenant, offering lessons on prophetic burdens, God's faithfulness, and spiritual transformation.
  • Explore Ezekiel's life as a priest in exile, his bizarre actions, and profound messages revealing Yahweh's passion and eternal promises of judgment and restoration.
  • Learn about Nahum and Joel's prophecies on judgment, hope, and Yahweh's character. Explore the day of the Lord and the expansion of the covenant community.
  • Explore Obadiah, Habakkuk, and Zephaniah's prophecies. Discover themes of judgment, faith, and restoration in God's plan.
  • Gain insight into Haggai's role in motivating temple rebuilding during the Persian rule. His brief yet impactful ministry fosters hope and action amid community disillusionment, recoginizing God's presence and reign.
  • Gain deep insight into Hebrew poetry: its forms, parallelism, acrostics, and emotional depth. Explore its celebration and lamentation of Yahweh's glory.
  • Gain insight into Psalms which reflect diverse emotions and experiences. Structured into five divisions, attributed to various authors, their interpretation involves understanding Torah context, literary devices, and applying timeless principles to life.
  • Explore biblical wisdom's depth: from practical skill to moral insight, rooted in the fear of Yahweh. It contrasts with secular knowledge, emphasizing God's order and universal application.
  • Engage with Proverbs to unravel its diverse wisdom, from aphorisms to discourses. Understand its practical guidance for righteous living and leadership.
  • Discover the Song of Songs, a rich exploration of love's nature. From its allegorical interpretations to its celebration of covenantal love, it examines human relationships with wisdom and depth.
  • The book of Job offers insights into faith and suffering, exploring theological themes and character dynamics. It emphasizes trust in God amid life's most difficult trials.
  • Uncover Ecclesiastes' profound journey from despair to hope. Koheleth's existential ponderings contrast with the narrator's faith, urging a shift from worldly pursuits to finding fulfillment in God's sovereignty.

This Old Testament Survey course offers a deep exploration of the Old Testament's literary structure, divine covenants, and historical context. Lessons cover the Pentateuch, emphasizing its narrative over legalistic interpretations, and extend through key biblical figures like Abraham and Moses. Topics such as the covenant at Sinai, the concept of imago Dei, and the tabernacle rituals highlight the continuity of God's grace and the ethical implications of divine laws. The course critically addresses common misconceptions, the role of the Torah as instruction, and the portrayal of God’s plan, underscoring the relevance and complexity of these ancient texts.

Dr. Daniel Block 
Old Testament Survey
Deuteronomy: The Covenant Renewed
Lesson Transcript


The covenant renewed on the plains of Moab with Abraham's descendants, that is, the Conquest generation. We're looking at the book of Deuteronomy, which is all about proclaiming God's grace and glory on the banks of the Jordan River. A few introductory comments on this amazing book.

Approximately 40 years separated the events underlying the book of Deuteronomy from the events at Sinai, and geographically they occurred an 11-day caravan journey away. But then why did it take them 38 years to get here? Like the Apostle John, who had at least 40 years to reflect on the significance of the salvation that Jesus accomplished through his incarnation, ministry, death, and resurrection, by now Moses had had four decades to reflect on the significance of Yahweh's great acts of salvation associated with Israel's exodus from Egypt and their time spent at Mount Sinai. As is the case with the Gospel of John, this probably accounts for the profoundly theological nature of this book.

Both books, John and Deuteronomy, recall many events associated with the primary subject of the composition, Yahweh, in the case of Deuteronomy, Jesus, Yahweh incarnate, in the fourth Gospel. Coming from a verb, hora, to teach, which comes from the sphere of pedagogy rather than legislation, torah in Deuteronomy refers to authoritative instruction, which may include legal material, but it often involves genealogy, stories, poems, parables, prayers, and all the rest of it. There are different ways of teaching.

The book of Deuteronomy illustrates the theological and literary significance of the word torah better than any other text in the First Testament. The translators of the Septuagint would have served the text, and later readers, us, much better if they had rendered the word either as didaskalia or didache, teaching, both of which correspond more closely to Hebrew torah. The narrator of Moses' final days announced the genre of Deuteronomy with the opening clause, these are the words that Moses spoke, deber, to all Israel, Deuteronomy 1.1. The elocutionary goal of his address appears with his conclusion to the preamble in 1.5. Moses began to put into effect this torah by saying.

My translation of this clause is different from what you find in most English translations, which have something like, Moses began to explain this torah by saying, or this law actually, they translated it. But the word is a rare word in Hebrew, comes from a root meaning to put something into effect, and Moses does that by speaking. Here, this torah refers not to previous revelation, that is the revelation at Sinai, let alone law, that which Yahweh delivered at Sinai, and which Moses now set out to expound.

The word torah refers to the speeches that follow, not what came before. They constitute what later writers would identify as the torah of Moses, or simply the torah. Now, when we look at what Moses is doing in the book of Deuteronomy, what he thinks he's doing, and what the narrator thinks he's doing, contrary to most common opinion, Moses' role in Deuteronomy is not that of a lawgiver.

He is not legislating. As Israel's divine king, Yahweh has exclusive claim to that role. Yahweh legislates.

Here, Moses' role is that of a teacher, which explains why we have the repeated use of the verb lemed, to teach. I am teaching you. And the repeated references to his words, the words hadivarim, as the torah, the teaching.

That's really how we should translate the word, the teaching, the instruction, probably with a capital I in the case of instruction, or T in the case of teaching. This book contains a series of addresses that Moses offered to this generation of Israelites as his final pastoral charge, prior to his departure from them, like Jesus' upper room discourse in John 14 to 16. Here, Moses gathers all his people, his big family, really, for one more conversation, his parting charge.

Of course, we understand the geographic setting of this. They've come out of Egypt. They've gone down to Mount Sinai in the southern Sinai Peninsula, and then they came back to Catesparnia, from which they refused to enter the land, and God sent them back into the desert to get rid of that generation.

And now they have come by past Edom and Moab and the Ammonites, and they are on the banks of the Jordan River, ready, poised to cross and enter the land. This is Moses' farewell address. He can see the land over there, and in the book, he is bitter about not being, especially in the first address, he's bitter about not being permitted to cross the Jordan, but these are his last farewell pastoral sermons to his people.

He delivered these addresses as essential parts of a covenant renewal ritual on the plains of Moab immediately prior to their crossing of the Jordan and their commencing of the conquest of the promised land. Although scholars debate whether the book contains three or four addresses, I used to think it was three. I now believe it is four, and in my new commentary coming out, that's the view that will be presented here.

The first address takes us from chapter 1 verse 6 to 440, the second address from 5 1b to 11 32, the third address from 12 1 to 26 19, and then it's interrupted until we get to chapter 28, which is still a part of the third address, these are the curses and blessings. The fourth address is chapters 29 and 30, and then you have an anthem. I call it Israel's national anthem in chapter 32.

Moses is about to die, and God says, so teach them this song. You won't be there to be their pastoral voice anymore. You're leaving.

Give them this song and teach it to them, and let it function as an anthem for this people in perpetuity, and that's what happens in chapter 32. In chapter 33, we have Moses' benediction of the tribes, and then he climbs Mount Nebo, and there he dies, and the Lord buries him, and that account is in chapter 34. This is the book of Deuteronomy, and as we hear this book, and we must hear it orally more than any other.

This book was meant to be heard, not analyzed, you know, at the desk. We need to hear this in community. This book is about the gospel, the good news of what God has done for Israel, and the response that God in his mercy reveals to them that would satisfy him.

I've looked all over the world for images of a happy Moses to put on the cover of some of my books on Deuteronomy and on Moses, but you can't find any images like this, whether in sculpture or in art forms. Moses is always angry, until my granddaughter discovered a child's book, and she said, Grandpa, I found a happy Moses in the picture, and here you have it. The Lord is my strength and song.

He is my salvation. Sing to the Lord. This is a happy Moses, and while Moses is personally sad in the first address of Deuteronomy, all the way through, his addresses are punctuated with that which should give the Israelites cause for celebration.

The Lord is my strength. The Lord has done great things for us. For the Israelites, vassaldom to Yahweh was not humiliating, but an honorific status.

They were drawn to the Lord himself, called to a personal relationship with him, exalted high above the nations as trophies of divine grace, so that the world might give praise, honor, and glory to their Redeemer. That's a paraphrase of Deuteronomy 26, 19, and then 28, 1, and 9. Well, as we look at this book, we need to understand that these speeches are part of the ritual of renewing the covenant with this generation of Israel on the plains of Moab. What are the elements of this covenant that we can trace in this book? Well, first, you have the formal assembly of the people of Israel in the presence of Yahweh.

All of these speeches happened in front of the people. We don't know how long this took. It could have taken a week.

It could have taken more or less than that. We don't even know if these were all of Moses' addresses at this point, but in any case, the people gather for covenant renewal rituals. Second, you have the presentation of the Torah to the people.

In the presence of all, Moses declares the Lord's instructions to the people. The narrator tells us he spoke just as Yahweh commanded him to speak at that point, though in this book, it is always presented as the voice of Moses, in contrast to Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers, where it's always the word of the Lord came to Moses saying, and then you have the Lord's voice. In Deuteronomy, Moses is speaking.

Moses is teaching, but he's very conscious of his authoritative and inspired status. So you've got the presentation of the Torah to the people. These represent the four speeches that we find.

Having presented the Torah to the people, you have the verbal binding of the covenant partners. Chapter 26, verses 16 to 19, it echoes that ritual in which the people sign on to the document, and they hear God signing on to them, and so after that, you can have the official pronouncement, today you have become the people of Yahweh. That's the significance of all that's been going on.

They, this generation, they didn't experience the Exodus. Oh, those who were 20 years of age at the time of the Exodus, they were there, but they were not signatories to that original event. It was the generation that was, they were only children when they got out of Egypt, or they were born in the desert during the 38 years of wandering.

But today, today you have become the people of God, officially, formally married to Yahweh, their husband, or we could use the adoption metaphor, they have become the sons and daughters of God. Then we have, that's the official pronouncement, 27, 9 to 8, the concluding oath. Ritual covenants were always concluded with rituals by which the people guaranteed their fidelity.

In chapter 27, it actually starts, we have hints of this in chapter 11, 29 to 32, we have the anticipation of an addendum to the covenant procedure, where the Israelites at the Mount Gerizimene will go through a special ceremony, which in my interpretation signifies the land being fully incorporated into this covenant relationship, so that now that covenant triangle will be complete. Yahweh at the top, the Israelites, his people, and the land, which is a vital part of this relationship. There is so much we could say about the book of Deuteronomy, but we are limited to one session on this, which is a crying shame.

I regret it. For those of you who are interested in more on this book, I have several books of essays on the book of Deuteronomy available on Amazon. Also, a commentary, the NIVAC, N-I-V-E application commentary from Zondervan is available, and even as we speak, a new expanded version of the commentary in three volumes is about to appear on press, and there you can find fuller discussions of all the things that I am just teasing you with in this session.

And of course, you can always consult the course on Deuteronomy that's available that I've taught for biblicaltraining.org on the website of this magnificent organization. When we are trying to grasp the message of Deuteronomy, and the approach of Deuteronomy, and the rhetorical strategy of Deuteronomy, it may be helpful to look at one core text. This text is generally unknown to most people.

They've never heard of it, but in my view, it is at the heart of this book, and I'd like to spend a little time on Deuteronomy chapter 10 verse 12 to 11 verse 1. As in so many other instances, the chapter division here is unfortunate. 11.1, in my mind, is the conclusion to this text. But this is a magnificent text.

It opens up with a question, and now, O Israel, what does Yahweh your God require of you? That sounds like the question that Micah asked in his prophecy centuries later, what does the Lord ask of you? And here, Moses is asking, what does God require of the Israelites? Now, in Paul and Jesus' day, and in many Jewish communities today, the answer to this one, and in fact, many of us would answer this question quite differently than what we actually find in this text. I used to think that what God required of the Israelites was, keep the law, be sure you eat kosher food, and all the external regulations of purification, and the festivals, and all the rest of it. That's what God requires of the Israelites.

But I come to this text, and I am shocked by what I see Moses giving as the answers to that question. When we read the book of Deuteronomy, we must recognize that Moses is a preacher, a prophetic preacher. In fact, the only title he has in this book is prophet.

The Lord will raise up a prophet like me for you in the future. But here, Moses is preaching, and it is a magnificent three-point sermon, clearly divided into three parts, giving us three answers to that question. What did the Lord our God require of the Israelites? They're all in the three columns on the chart we see in front of us.

The first answer, what did God require? This is verse 12, B to 13. But to fear Yahweh your God, to walk in all his ways, to demonstrate love for him, and to serve your God with all your heart, and all your being, and to keep Yahweh's commands and his ordinances, which I am commanding you today. That's answer number one.

Answer number two, 10 verse 16, circumcise the foreskin of your heart. Do not be stiff-necked any longer. And then answer number three, only Yahweh your God you must fear and serve, only to him you must hold firmly, and only in his name you must swear.

That's chapter 10 verse 20. Three answers to the question, but the interesting thing is what follows these answers. He follows them up with a doxology that provides a theological basis for their answer, and then an expression of praise for that which God has done actually for the Israelites.

In the doxology, it's all about the transcendent qualities of God. Why should we fear God and walk in his ways? Look, to Yahweh your God belong the heavens, and the heaven of heavens, and the earth with all that is in it. Or the second answer, for Yahweh your God is God of gods, and Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and awesome God, who shows no partiality and accepts no bribe.

Or the third, he alone is your praise, he alone is your God, who has performed for you these great and awesome wonders that your own eyes saw. This is amazing. We who are called to be the Lord's people serve the God of gods, and the Lord of kings, and the one who created all.

He is the great God of the universe, who has revealed himself to us by name. And then, of course, you have the application. He's not just the God up there, the God removed.

Notice what he has done for Israel. In the first answer, yet, I mean he is, he owns everything, yet Yahweh handpicked you to be the objects of his affection, and to demonstrate love for you, and to those, he chose their descendants, the ancestors' descendants, after them, out of all the peoples as you are today. The great God has chosen us to be his people.

That's motivation for responding well to God. In the second one, he executes what's just for the widow, and demonstrates love for the alien by giving them food and clothing. So, you must demonstrate love for the alien, because you were aliens in the land of Egypt.

This is what God has done for Israel. He rescued us. He saved us from our slavery.

And then, the last one, your ancestors went down to Egypt as a clan of 70 persons, and now, Yahweh your God has made you as numerous as the stars of the sky. Those are the things that the God of the universe, the God of kings, the God of gods, the Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and awesome God, he has done this for us. And then, you have the summary.

So, you must demonstrate love for Yahweh your God by keeping his charge, and his ordinances, and his instructions. That's a summary statement of all of this. I want to pause to reflect a little bit more on that first role, the green column.

What does Yahweh your God require of you? You will see in that, in verses 10, 12b to 13, five answers to that question. Fear Yahweh your God. Walk in his ways.

Demonstrate love for him. Serve him, Yahweh your God, with all your heart and with all your being, and then keep his ordinances. We've got five terms.

Why? We should have mentioned when we were talking about the Decalogue that the Decalogue has, by definition, 10 words, 10 principles of covenant relationship, undoubtedly to help us in memorization. This is a teaching device. Well, if that one has 10, this one has five.

I refer to this as Moses' Catechism for the people. And if you look at what God requires of the Israelites here, it's nothing like we would have expected. We would have expected circumcision, keeping purity laws, keeping eating kosher food, and all the rest of that kind of stuff, keeping the Sabbath the way the Pharisees tell us to keep the Sabbath.

But he doesn't do any of that. Notice, what does God require of Israelites? One, fear Yahweh your God. And of course, now we need to understand that the word fear here does not mean be afraid.

This word has a range of meanings from terror, I'm gonna die, all the way to trusting awe. We saw this when we talked about Genesis 22. After he sacrificed Isaac, God said to Abraham, now I know that you fear me, which means have trusting awe.

In the wisdom writings, the fear of the Lord is the first principle of wisdom. If you don't have fear, nothing else matters. In fact, this is what distinguishes us from most creatures, our movable thumb, which helps us to grab things and do other things with our hands.

Fear Yahweh your God, that's principle number one. Two, walk in all his ways, which means walking the way he tells you to walk, but it also means walking the way God walks. In the next answer, Moses will say, the Lord demonstrates love for the alien by giving them food and clothing, so you should demonstrate love for the alien by giving them food and clothing.

That's walking like God walks. Then of course, the middle one, and in your hand, that middle finger is the dominant finger. This is at the heart of everything.

Demonstrate love for Yahweh, which means acting always in his interest and for his glory. The fourth one is serving the Lord your God with your entire heart, mind, and being. Now we recognize the connection with the Shema, being totally devoted to God, being his vassal.

To serve Yahweh doesn't mean primarily to keep God happy by giving him food and offerings and drinks, drink offerings and food offerings. It's not that. It's about being the Lord's servant in all of life, representing him wherever we go.

Well, the analogy in our cultural context is the ring we wear. This ring is a symbol, signal to anybody who sees my hand. I am not my own.

I belong to somebody else, and that's what in our marriage vows we said, wherever you go, I will go. I am yours forever, and she reciprocated that to me, and it's given us five decades more of glorious joy and bliss serving Yahweh. And then finally, oh, keep it.

By the way, keep the commandments. If there is one finger on the hand, if I knew I had to sacrifice one finger, and I was asked, which would that be? It would be, you can have my little finger. The fact is, if you have all these other four things, Jesus reduced it even to the middle finger.

Love the Lord your God with all your heart, but if you have all these other four things, that little finger, everything will be in place. What did God require of the Israelites? This is an extremely important lesson on God's requirement of Israel, and when we think about ancient Israel, don't feel sorry for them. Celebrate with them, because the Lord has revealed to them, not only himself in his salvation and in his covenant and all the rest, taking care of them, but because he's revealed his will.

We need to follow up this discussion of what God requires of Israel, of what the law represented in this system. So now I'm going to summarize my understanding of what all the laws that Moses talks about in Deuteronomy, he doesn't legislate, he talks about. He gives us a theology of obedience, and when he quotes earlier laws, it is law in the interest and for the purpose of theology, not the other way around.

How should we understand Israel's law as we draw our discussion of the Pentateuch to a close? Deuteronomy is the last book of the Pentateuch. Several principles, postulates. First, although Israel's laws were revealed in stages and in their detail and vision, different circumstances, some apply to Israel on the journey to the promised land, others to Israel's settlement in the promised land.

These laws originated with Yahweh, their covenant suzerain. They exhibit a common conceptual, ethical, and spiritual perspective. We should not distinguish the Decalogue from the covenant document, Exodus 21, the guidebook on holiness, Leviticus 17 to 26, or the Torah of Moses in this book of Deuteronomy.

They all represent the same perspective which Jesus reduced to, love the Lord your God and your neighbor as yourself. Second, Israel's constitutional documents are unanimous in their portrayal of Israel's laws as the divinely revealed and acceptable response to Yahweh's grace in choosing them to be his treasured possession and in sanctifying his people. They are his amsegolah, his treasured people, and his holy people, kadosh l'Yahweh, holy to Yahweh.

What is inscribed on the medallion on the turban of the high priest is true of the entire nation of Israel. You have over and over again in Deuteronomy, which doesn't talk about, doesn't use the language of holiness much, but it does say, you are a holy people to God, or you are a people holy to God. He redeemed them from the bondage of slavery in Egypt, and he gave them the land of Canaan as their territorial grant.

Notice, Israel's laws are intended to be interpreted as appropriate responses to grace. They are not means of earning the kind favor of God by people not related to him. No, God took the initiative.

He rescued them. He made them his own, and he is the one who is with them. They are responding to all of those graces.

We compare this with Israel's domestic credo in chapter 6, verses 20 to 25. Moses envisages a supper conversation. Someday at the supper table, one of your kids is going to ask, what's the point of all these laws? Then you shall say, we were slaves in Egypt, but the Lord rescued us.

I didn't ask about that. I asked about the laws. Talk to me about the laws.

Shh, I'll get there. But we were slaves in Egypt, and we were horribly mistreated, but the Lord brought us out, and he is taking us to the promised land, and now he has given us all these laws, commands for our good and for our life. That's a shocker.

For our life. The law was given to give life, not to kill, and this of course is Psalm 119 all the way through. In the Torah, there is life.

So these are responses to grace already experiences, not ways of earning God's favors. Third, far from being a burden that no one could bear, Israel's knowledge of the will of their God as revealed in their laws was deemed a high privilege, making them the envy of the world. We've already read Deuteronomy 4, 5-8.

The nations will say, wow, what a wise and understanding people this is, for what great nation is there that has a God so near to it as Yahweh our God whenever we call upon him, and what great nation is there that has laws as righteous as this whole Torah that I am setting before you today. This is a high privilege. Four, whereas Yahweh's revelation given directly to Israel at first, Exodus 20, Deuteronomy 5, that's the Decalogue, the Ten Commands, and subsequently through the mediation of Moses, whereas that revelation had offered the access to his will, Yahweh's expectations expressed by the laws he prescribed for his people were both clear and attainable.

There isn't a single law in this whole ordinance. Maimonides, the Jewish rabbi, identified 613 laws in the Pentateuch. There isn't one that's impossible.

God doesn't ask his people to jump over nine-story buildings or to swim across the Mediterranean. That's impossible. He offers something that is clear and that's doable, and there isn't a single person in the ancient Near Eastern world would have viewed any of Israel's laws as too hard to do.

In the Christian tradition, we talk often about three uses of the law. There is the law for civil authority. Standing apart from the work of salvation, the law represents God's general revelation and serves as a common grace for unbelievers as well as believers.

You see this in the reformers, Martin Luther and John Calvin. Second, the normative use of law. The law serves as a guide for believers teaching the way of righteousness, but it has no power to condemn.

And third, the law serves as a pedagogue, which through fear of punishment forces us to confront our sin because we are unable to keep the law and points us to Christ. When I look at those three uses of the law, I can recognize number one in Moses and elsewhere in the First Testament. I can recognize especially number two.

Moses' emphasis in Deuteronomy is always with number two. The law is given to the redeemed as a guide for their behavior so that they can maintain their relationship with God, but there is nothing of number three anywhere in Moses. They are unable to keep the law.

We interpret that to mean God put on the Israelites something that nobody could keep, and it drives us through the ends of ourselves and points us to Christ. I don't see how that—if I ask Moses, what do you think about that? And he just said, what are you talking about? The law serves as a pedagogue and through fear of punishment forces us to confront our sin, and in his day it was because we're unable to keep the law and points us to Yahweh. Yes, it points us to Yahweh, but the point is not simply to invoke fear of punishment.

The point is to promote fear of Yahweh, trusting God, which is why always in this book law is always preceded by proclamations of gospel. I am Yahweh your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, so you shall have no other gods. That's why, because God has done all of this for us.

This is a liberating law that Moses offers to people. Luther's understanding of the law would have baffled Moses and the poets who penned Psalm 19, 7 to 14 and Psalm 119 As the culminating moment in covenantal revelation, Moses had declared unequivocally that the law yields life and well-being and good and flourishing—dozens of references to that. The ethical and ceremonial performances that Yahweh demanded of the Israelites were both reasonable and doable.

Not a single command was impossible. The Lord didn't demand that people leap over 12-story buildings or swim across the ocean. On the contrary, all of these would have been deemed reasonable by any ancient Near Easterners.

They would not have protested that the food laws, the prohibitions on murder and adultery and theft and the sacrificial laws were impossible or even burdensome. Nobody would have said that about the Israelite system. Their own law codes expected the same.

This is all reasonable. From beginning to end, Moses challenges his people to righteous living. He assumes, though, that Yahweh's people were able to achieve the divine demands, and having been redeemed, they had motivation and drive, and I would argue, indwelt by the Spirit of God, they had the power to do it

His answer to what Yahweh required of Israel in 10, 12 to 13 is entirely reasonable—to fear Yahweh, to walk in his ways, to love him, to serve him with a whole heart and body, and to keep his commands. Romans 12, 1 to 2 offers Paul's equivalent appeal. I appeal to you, therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies as a living sacrifice.

We have some people who say that in the First Testament, worship was external and formal, liturgical, whereas in the New Testament, to us, it is internal and spiritual. Talk to Moses about that. Here, Paul is saying that you present your bodies as a living sacrifice.

That is external. That means everything devoted to God, wholly acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And on this count now, I am resorting to the old King James translation of reasonable service.

If we had read the Septuagint of Deuteronomy 10, 12 to 11, 1, we would recognize where the Septuagint gets its interpretation of this. It's reasonable service, vassaldom. And it's not only reasonable, it's privileged.

And so, Paul adds, so don't be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may comply with the will of God, doing what is good and acceptable and perfect. Moses sounds exactly like, I mean, Paul sounds exactly like Moses in that statement. A fifth postulate, although in Western nation laws are created by legislative bodies in response to problems in a society and as resources for courts in adjudicating guilt or innocence, the function of Israel's laws was to create a vision for a righteous society and to offer an exhaustible, though not exhaustive, resource for learning what that looks like in everyday life.

Deuteronomy 16, 20 is the watchword of Moses' third address, tzedek tzedek kirdof, righteousness, righteousness you shall pursue. And that is the aim of God's people everywhere. Six, the primary objective of biblical law is the creation of a righteous society.

Moses declared that goal in 1620. Here, the word tzedek refers to behavior in accord with an established standard, in this instance, the covenant stipulations as defined by Yahweh. That is righteousness.

But the word is also used in this sense in extra-biblical text, most notably in Panamuah and Barakiv's fidelity to their overlord Tiglath-Pileser. It is called righteousness. And if you want to look at the scope of righteousness in the book of Deuteronomy, it involves not just social righteousness or social justice, but all sorts of dimensions, vertical definitions of righteousness, nor the gods, ritual fidelity, worshiping God as God invites us to, bearing Yahweh's name, representing him.

That's the vertical. Personal, don't covet, remain pure, watch your own life. And then horizontal, creation care, social justice, family care, all of this comes under the rubric of righteousness.

Seven, biblical law assumes a compassionate and godly citizenry that protects those who are economically and socially vulnerable from abuse at the hands of those with economic and social power. That's love, looking out for the well-being of the others, and that applies especially to those who have authority over other people who are responsible for their welfare. Eight, biblical law reflects a profoundly democratic and egalitarian impulse.

Have you ever noticed that there are no police in the First Testament Israel? No police. In fact, professional judges don't come up until later. In the Torah, there are no professional judges.

There are people, elders, who are called upon to judge, but all the laws about justice are given to the people themselves. Justice is everybody's business, which makes it a democratic thing. Accordingly, most stipulations in the constitutional documents are addressed to the heads of households whom the Torah holds primarily responsible for the pursuit of righteousness, only righteousness.

These laws recognize the particular function of kings and Levitical priests, prophets, and judges, but the well-being of the community and the pursuit of justice is everybody's business. Leaders were to treat every Israelite as a member of the family. Your brothers and those with economic or judicial power were deemed brothers to their servants.

It is a wonderful social structure. Indeed, every individual enjoyed the privileges and shared the privilege burden, actually, of being a vassal of Yahweh. Nine, while desiring sinless perfection of his people, Yahweh actually didn't expect it.

Accordingly, he provided a festival calendar to keep alive the memory of his past grace in redemption and covenant, and he provided a cultic system headed by Aaron and the Levitical priests to deal with the problem of human sin and to maintain their covenant relationship with him. That's all grace. God didn't expect sinless.

There are no perfect individuals other than God in the Bible. They are all flawed, but God has an answer for that in his mercy and grace. Well, of course, this is why the psalmist can say, O the privilege of the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered, O the privilege or congratulations to the one whom Yahweh does not consider guilty and in whose spirit there is no deceit.

There is no deceit. This is a brilliant statement by the psalmist. How then, on what grounds did they receive that forgiveness? A couple of points here.

First, when first testament saints presented their sacrifices in faith, they based their hope of forgiveness on the word of God. God said, this is what sin looks like. God said, I am the one whom you have offended.

God said, this is the offense. But God also said, if you do this, your relationship with me will be kept intact, forgiven. My sins are blotted out, I know.

Two, when God observed faith, demonstrated in pure and righteous life, and rituals performed as instructed, he applied to that person the forgiveness made possible through the blood of Christ, actually slain before the foundation of the world. This was all in God's plan of redemption. Given these postulates, it is not difficult to understand why the nations around would have viewed the Israelites as extremely privileged because they had a God so near as Yahweh was to them, and they possessed a body of revelation from him that was fundamentally and essentially righteous, and it worked.

It's time for Christians to acknowledge that they have received the same grace that came to Israel, and to treasure the Torah that is their scripture by virtue of having been grafted into this covenant community. There are a couple of images from the world of art that are especially interesting to me, and I love this picture. It's on a sarcophagus of Christ and his apostles in Ravenna, Italy, and in this picture you see Jesus enthroned, surrounded by his disciples.

To his left, our right, is Peter who holds the keys to the kingdom, but to his right, our left, we see the figure of Paul, and Jesus is handing Paul a scroll. Here, take it. He is not telling—Paul is not holding a garbage bag.

He's not saying, here, take this and get rid of it and replace it with something new. Paul is receiving that Torah from Jesus, and I imagine that that Torah scroll is, in fact, Deuteronomy. It was Jesus' favorite book.

It's not big enough to be the whole Pentateuch, for sure not. I think it's Deuteronomy, and when I read Paul more and more, I see Paul is trying to recover what Moses was trying to do in the book of Deuteronomy. There is one other image, and this is a mystic mill from the Benedictine Abbey in Saint-Marie-Madeleine in France, 12th century.

On the left, you see Moses pouring in the grain into this mill, grinding the grinder, and on the right, you see Paul holding the bag, receiving the flour. Now, Paul, go ahead. Take the flour that has been provided by Moses' grain, and go make your bread.

That's what gives life. This is the Word of God. This is the book of Deuteronomy.

To God be the glory.