Thursday, February 27, 2014

Deuteronomy 1-2 The Jewish story retold

From Deuteronomy 1-2

When you think of the Jewish law, what kinds of things come to mind?


Deuteronomy, which means “second law,” is a retelling by Moses of the teachings and events of Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers. It includes an extended review of the Ten Commandments (4:44–5:33) and Moses’ farewell address to a new generation of Israelites as they stand ready to take possession of the Promised Land. Moses reminds them of God’s faithfulness and love, but also of God’s wrath on the previous generation of Israelites because of their rebellion. Repeatedly he charges Israel to keep the Law. Deuteronomy is a solemn call to love and obey the one true God. There are blessings for faithfulness and curses for unfaithfulness. The book closes with the selection of Joshua as Israel’s new leader and the death of Moses.

(The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2001). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.)


Dt 1.1-8 Story; Israel commanded to leave Goren and go to the promised land
Dt 1.9-18 Story; Moses appoints leaders to help him govern the people
Dt 1.19-33 Story; Moses sends out spies to the promised land, they return and report
Dt 1.34-46 Story-Sin; Israel refuses to go in and the LORD condemns them to wander for a generation, they try to enter but are defeated in battle
Dt 2.1-15 Story; The forty years in the wilderness, part one, the men of war have perished
Dt 2.16-37 Story; The forty years in the wilderness, part two, a new start, early battle won
Passage and Comments

Deuteronomy means ‘second law’. The Hebrew word translated as ‘law’ is ‘Torah’, it can also be rendered ‘direction’ or ‘instruction’. Deuteronomy itself is presented as summary of the dealings between the LORD and Israel on the way from Horeb to the promised land.

1 These are the words that Moses spoke to all Israel beyond the Jordan in the wilderness, in the Arabah opposite Suph, between Paran and Tophel, Laban, Hazeroth, and Dizahab. (Dt 1:1)

Deuteronomy begins with someone recalling Moses words and deeds. The third person reference eventually changes to first person (Dt 1.9). This brings up questions of who wrote Deuteronomy. But I will leave this question for another day. Deuteronomy continues;

2 It is eleven days’ journey from Horeb by the way of Mount Seir to Kadesh-barnea. 3 In the fortieth year, on the first day of the eleventh month, Moses spoke to the people of Israel according to all that the LORD had given him in commandment to them, 4 after he had defeated Sihon the king of the Amorites, who lived in Heshbon, and Og the king of Bashan, who lived in Ashtaroth and in Edrei. (Dt 1:2-4)

As they journeyed along Moses passed on the LORD’s commandments to Israel. There were a few. Some fairly obvious about how they should treat the LORD and treat one another. Others were ceremonial and involved rituals to recall certain events. Some administrative, etc.

5 Beyond the Jordan, in the land of Moab, Moses undertook to explain this law, saying, 6 “The LORD our God said to us in Horeb, ‘You have stayed long enough at this mountain. 7 Turn and take your journey, and go to the hill country of the Amorites and to all their neighbors in the Arabah, in the hill country and in the lowland and in the Negeb and by the seacoast, the land of the Canaanites, and Lebanon, as far as the great river, the river Euphrates. 8 See, I have set the land before you. Go in and take possession of the land that the LORD swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give to them and to their offspring after them.’ (Dt 1:5–8)

The explanation of the law doesn’t seem to provide rationale for the commands of the law. So what is going on here and why has Moses explained the ‘law’ this way? What is reasonably is that Moses is referring to the LORD’s command and promise that Israel continue on to Canaan, the promised land. The ‘law’ in this sense describes the command to go to the promised land and the story of Israel in doing so.

Moses will continue to describe the early history of Israel. Recalling how he setup leaders to look after the people. His sending of Caleb and the spies to check out the promised land. Their initial refusal and unbelief in the LORD that they can take it. And then their punishment. The wilderness wanderings after which a whole generation had passed away.

Story of Israel

The 'law' is understood in different ways by the Jews. Simply put, it can be a combination of;
1) The scriptural narrative of Israel, and/or
2) The commands given to Moses (encoded as part of the narrative)

Unfortunately the era of the law turned out to be a time of slavery and wrath. Firstly they were enslaved to Egypt (Ex 1.8-14). Afterwards when Israel had been delivered from Egypt and when they sinned against the LORD. The LORD gave them more laws as another form of slavery (Eze 20.25-26; Gal 3.22-23; 4.1-10).

While some of the commands of the law are good (Rom 7.12), living under the whole law was actually a burden (Acts 15.10). God gave the law to Israel when the sinned so they could sin more (Rom 5.20) and thus their sins would pile up to the point where God could pour out his wrath on them (Rom 4.15). This isn't the end though. There is hope.

Story of Jesus

One of the interesting aspects of Romans 3 is Paul’s references to the law. Paul says;

10 as it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one; 11 no one understands; no one seeks for God. 12 All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” 13 “Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive.” “The venom of asps is under their lips.” 14 “Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.” 15  “Their feet are swift to shed blood; 16 in their paths are ruin and misery, 17 and the way of peace they have not known.” 18 “There is no fear of God before their eyes.”

19 Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. (Rom 3.10-19)

When Paul is using the word ‘law’ (or Torah) at the start of verse 19, he is referring to the whole narrative of God’s dealings with Israel. The passages he quotes above come from Psalms and Isaiah. He is not referring to the law as a set of commands at this point. Paul will say in Galatians;

23 Now before faith [Christ] came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith [Christ] would be revealed. 24 So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. 25 But now that faith [Christ] has come, we are no longer under a guardian, 26 for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith [Christ’s faithfulness]. 27 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise. (Gal 3:23–29)

In the story of Jesus (the gospel), the story of the Jews is superseded and a new people of God will be defined by him.