Phillip Camp is an Associate Professor of Bible in Lipscomb University’s Hazelip School of Theology and in the College of Bible of Ministry. His latest book is Living as the Community of God: Moses Speaks to the Church in Deuteronomy (CrossLink, 2014).
Moses Speaks to the Church in Deuteronomy: Why Bother with Deuteronomy?
Deuteronomy is one of my favorite books of the Bible. Whatever look you have on your face after reading that, I am used to it. Deuteronomy and I are accustomed to taking our seat over in the corner while others hang out at the cool table with Genesis, Psalms, the Gospels, Romans and Philippians. I get it. This book of laws and curses, or so the popular perception goes, often seems boring and irrelevant. But there is more here than meets the eye. So I’ve made it something of a mission to get people to at least look over Deuteronomy’s way and see that a closer look reveals a book that has a lot to say today’s Christian. Let me suggest a few ways that this is the case.
First, Deuteronomy shows what it means to be in a faithful relationship with God, and invites us into such a relationship. It is not simply a matter of keeping a bunch of rules, despite the caricatured view of the Law many of us have had. It teaches us about living in loyal trusting relationship with God so that we may enjoy his presence and blessings and so that we may fulfill his purposes. It calls us away from our idols and toward the God who wants life—true life—for his people (Deut 6:2; 30:15, 19-20; 32:47).
Second, Deuteronomy highlights the grace of God for his people and for all people. I will explore this point further in a later post. Suffice it for now to say that Deuteronomy anticipates the gospel, grace permeates this book. God blesses and cares for his people though they (we!) have not earned it and do not deserve it (see Deut 9-10). He does for them what they cannot do for themselves.
Third, Deuteronomy teaches a great deal about the nature of God. In addition God’s grace, Deuteronomy reveals God’s love, justice, righteousness, and faithfulness. Furthermore, it calls Israel to imitate the character of God. As God loves and cares for the alien, so should God’s people (Deut 10:17-19). As God provided rest for his people, so his people should provide rest for others. As God provides justice, so the whole community is called to ensure justice (Deut 24:17-18)
Fourth, Deuteronomy shows the nature of community life for God’s people. Love of God leads to love of neighbor, and Deuteronomy gives examples of what that looks like in Israel’s context. While the particular manifestations may differ in our culture, an ethical impulse is there that continues to speak into our situation. One’s eyes and actions are turned from self toward the wellbeing of others. Priorities are realigned from what we typically experience. God is the priority of the community, and all else flows from that.Fifth, Deuteronomy reveals the missional purpose of the people of God, their role in his plan. God does not choose Israel as his holy people and treasured possession for their sake alone. They receive life and blessing from God, to be sure. However, their election also serves to bear witness to the world around them about this God of blessing and life. The nations should see something distinctive in God’s people as they live out God’s torah (instruction), which in turn leads to questions about this wisdom and then points ultimately toward their God (see 4:6-8).
Sixth, Deuteronomy teaches us a great deal about the nature and spirit of worship. While the particulars of our worship will differ, Deuteronomy gives us insight into what should characterize our community worship. God is placed squarely at the center of worship, and it is God who invites the community and sets the terms for the community to come into the divine presence. It shows worship that is driven by the story of God with God’s people. It also reveals the joyful and inclusive nature of worship. (See Deut 16:13-15)
Seventh, Deuteronomy has a lot to say about keeping the faith alive in the community and passing it on to the next generation. I will discuss this more in later post.
Eighth, Deuteronomy is one of the most influential books on the rest of the Bible. The basic theologies of (at the least) Joshua, Judges, 1-2 Samuel, 1-2 Kings, and Jeremiah are rooted in Deuteronomy, and it is one of the three most cited Old Testament books in the New Testament. Note also, that when Jesus battles Satan in the wilderness temptations, all Jesus’ responses come from Deuteronomy! (Matt 4:1-11; Luke 4:1-13; cf. Deut 8:3; 6:13, 16).
Ninth, Deuteronomy is Christian Scripture. According to Paul, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Tim 3:16-17). If the edges of the pages of Deuteronomy still have the gold gilding in your Bible, it’s time to dig into this part of God’s word.
Tenth, Deuteronomy poses the choices that every generation of God’s people must face: Will you trust God and move forward in faith or not? Deuteronomy presents the words of Moses to a new generation of Israelites on the border of the promise land as they anticipate inheriting the promises of God. Their parents feared and so failed to trust God, and they did not inherit the promises. Now, 40 years later, the new generation must choose whether or not they will trust God and be faithful to their covenant with him that they may inherit the promises. Likewise, each subsequent generation of God’s people face this choice as they (we) stand on the border, anticipating receiving promises of God and called into his mission. Moses encourages them and us to choose blessing and life.