Common reactions to Deuteronomy
I think people tend to have a variety of reactions to Deuteronomy. They think it’s
- simply historical
- simply cultural
- or, along the same line, merely besides the point right now
And I confess to struggling with some of these ideas, but a few important things guide me to a more careful and Biblical examination.
Jesus quotes Deuteronomy
The first is that Jesus quoted it during his temptation. He could have answered Satan with the validity of his own power and done miraculous things to put Satan in his place. After all, Jesus did many other miracles.
(And I’m going to add a note here that you cannot logically just dismiss the miracles of either the Old Testament or the New Testament for many reasons. For more on this, I recommend Miracles cannot happen, Supernatural or Science: How Do We Explain Miracles?, and Miracles Always Get Debunked So Don’t Believe In God. But for a beginning to understanding this, just consider the thought that any origins story, even if it is dressed up as a completely natural science, requires some sort of supernatural or inexplicable event to proceed. So I have absolutely no problem accepting the validity of the miracles in the Bible.)
But Jesus deliberately quoted scripture, therein stating truths about God and our human relationship with him. And in doing so, he emphasized the importance of Old Testament scripture – Deuteronomy specifically in this case – and ties it to his, Jesus’s, being.
You can read the full account of Jesus’ wilderness experience in Matthew chapter 4 and in Luke chapter 4, and in Mark chapter 1 verses 12 – 13 there’s just an abbreviated version.
In summary, the three temptations were:
- a temptation to satisfy his physical needs and desires
- asking God to display power for the sake of self-gratification, like a genie in a bottle
- the offering of power and control
It is interesting that Satan’s first temptation is basically a taunt. That’s a tactic that is still used today against Christians, just make us feel stupid.
His second temptation is a distorted misrepresentation of God’s Word, much like was done to Eve.
And the third temptation offered something that Jesus was promised, but by the wrong means and not to the degree or finality that he would get when he patiently followed God the Father’s plan.
The exact responses by Jesus, in order, are from:
- Deuteronomy 8:3
- Deuteronomy 6:16
- Deuteronomy 6:13, and also found in 10:20
If Jesus thought Deuteronomy was the thing to use to deal with Satan, it must have some very solid worth. Which leads to a second reason for taking Deuteronomy very seriously.
Deuteronomy has much to say about the holiness of God
Deuteronomy says much about the holiness and nature of God. It may seem harsh to us as humans because it so glaringly exposes our lack, our pride, and our propensity to not take sin seriously. If you want to think of yourself as basically a good person and/or you chafe at being told what God’s holy standards are, there is a good chance you will find Deuteronomy offensive.
I have heard people complain, “What kind of arrogant God needs everyone to do what he says or he will judge them?!” This rhetorical question is based on the pride of human perspective. It is based on the assumption that a person has a right to choose how they live. It completely ignores that God is the epitome of all that is good, which includes love AND justice.
Just try to take any person’s car, house, life and you will quickly discover they want justice for themselves – but they want to make the decisions, they want their own idea of what is right and what is wrong.
Still, ironically, much of what everyone views as right or wrong is universal, though too often capriciously or illogically or arrogantly or selfishly applied. Unfortunately, other claims of right and wrong are excuses to do wrong things, from lying to worshipping self. The only reason to be at odds with justice is because of the suffering it causes. Suffering that is appropriate when something has been done wrong, but suffering nonetheless.
Before we get to the hope that is also in Deuteronomy, let’s acknowledge that wrath is a reasonable response to wrong-doing. I could just say sin, but too many people tune out that word or think it is “only for really bad people.” Unfortunately, we have ALL done things that would righfully condemn us to judgement and appropriate punishment.
It doesn’t matter if we KNOW what is good, WANT to be good, or even manage to do SOME good. If we have done one unjust or bad thing, consequences are in order.
I have recently heard the example: If you get caught stealing a car or lying on a contract, it doesn’t matter if you have previously been kind to a child or in the future will refrain from yelling at a neighbor. The thing you did wrong still needs to be dealt with.
Our consciences know this and remind us. These feelings of guilt are unpleasant and humiliating. We want them to go away. We can make them null by
- relying on the truths of the whole of scripture
- distorting reality and deceiving ourselves into thinking there is no reason for the guilt.
So now let’s move on to the third reason to take Deuteronomy seriously:
Deuteronomy points the way to life
If you read Deuteronomy without human or worldly preconceptions, knowing that it is God’s revelation of himself, you can see that he is offering life. He says over and over that if they would follow him with their whole heart and whole soul they would be abundantly blessed and have life.
Why are such blessing and life contingent on clinging to God? Not only because he made us and knows what IS best for us, but because by his very nature he is THE source of anything that is good. And the sobering counterpart is that apart from him, you are separated from that good.
It is true, while he is patient, giving a chance for every person to choose his perfection, it rains on the just and unjust alike. But the Bible speaks clearly of a time of final judgement, when those who have rejected the one true God will be separated from him.
I think that all this soundly puts to rest any idea of Deuteronomy being boring, harsh, or beside the point. But what about it being confusing, just historical, or cultural?
The historicity of Deuteronomy is important
The historicity of Deuteronomy is important. It is not a fault. It is on the history of the Old Testament that the New Testament rises and shines. If only MORE people would acknowledge the historical value of Deuteronomy and the whole Old Testament!
Since many people don’t want to admit their own need for repentance, a common tactic is to loudly and often question whether the Bible is historically accurate. By any method applied to historical documents, the Bible far surpasses all such documents as being reasonable to believe in. But the consequences of this truth are hard to stomach, for those who don’t want to repent, so the lies are propagated and easily believed.
Is Deuteronomy only about an ancient civilization?
But are the things in Deuteronomy only for application to a long since expired civilization and its culture? Again, not if you take Jesus seriously.
It does help to know that the New Testament teachings all agree that the law of the Old Testament is to prepare us for salvation, to show us that we need to repent. And there are clarifications about the spirit of the law, as well as parts of it that we are now released from, things that have been dealt with now that the full mystery of how we can be born again as God’s children have been revealed.
So in one sense, some of the laws are specific to that period, to that time period, because in those cultures doing certain things sent certain messages to the other cultures, or indicated what you worshipped, but they don’t anymore. (Thoughts on Leviticus)
But the nature of God and the nature of what is good have not changed. And I refer you again to your pesky conscience.
A little bit more about confusion
All of which pretty much covers confusion, but let’s cover it a bit anyway. If you ever find yourself confused reading parts of the Bible, continue to read the WHOLE Bible with a humble heart, being fully assured it is God’s Word. And you will learn things. Things will come together.
Also, recognize that NO ONE this side of heaven completely understands every detail of the Bible. Some of this, as referred to before, comes with continual reading and maturity. But some seems to be saved for fully understanding when prophecy is fulfilled.
And also, there are many things in the Bible that are perfectly clear, and this includes many things in Deuteronomy. If you just read it, read what it says, you will understand a lot. And it will draw you to more fully worship our holy God if you are humble enough to repent and accept the saving blood of Jesus Christ.
Seven times your whole heart and whole soul
In conclusion, let’s re-read Deuteronomy 30:19-20. But you can go back and listen to that in context if you listen to the chapters that I’ve read fully of Deuteronomy. But this is what these two verses say:
I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. Therefore choose life, that you may live, you and your descendants, to love Yahweh your God, to obey his voice, and to cling to him; for he is your life, and the length of your days, that you may dwell in the land which Yahweh swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give them.
And references to seeking Yahweh with all your heart and with all your soul are actually found seven places, from beginning to end of Deuteronomy. You can find this in
- Deuteronomy 4:29
- Deuteronomy 6:5
- Deuteronomy 10:12
- Deuteronomy 11:13
- Deuteronomy 13:3 (I mispoke in the podcast)
- Deuteronomy 26:16
- Deuteronomy 30:6
I know some people say that the number seven is the Biblical number of completion, but regardless of that, I think we can see that this is emphasized: the intensity of clinging to God, it’s individual, it’s intimate. And it goes way beyond a list of rules or religious creeds.
Deuteronomy is about knowing God, which can only be done if we acknowledge who he really is. And he has gone to great lengths to reveal that to us.