3 Reasons You Should Preach through Deuteronomy

Article
06.28.2018

The book of Deuteronomy portrays God as King and reveals the way his people should live in covenant with him.

At my church, we titled our sermon series through the book “The King and his Way.” It proved to be an encouraging series for our people. Whether the sermons were actually good or people were just shocked to glean something rich and relevant from the book of Deuteronomy—that’s yet to be seen.

But I am confident that preaching through Deuteronomy will provide both you and your hearers with much to encourage your heart and instruct your mind. Below, I’ll list three reasons why.

1. Deuteronomy portrays the real nature of his people’s covenant with the great king, the living God.

Covenants weren’t unusual in the ancient near East. A typical covenant would go something like this: “Hi. I’m your new king. I just destroyed your entire army and murdered your old king. Furthermore, I’ll be happy to slaughter anyone who pushes back against me. Oh, and by the way, here’s a treaty so that you know what the new normal is.”

Deuteronomy inverts this common format. It goes something like this: “I am the God who liberated you from oppression and slavery. I have fought, fulfilled, and will continue to fulfill my promises on your behalf. Here’s a treaty so that you will know and remember my affection for you, as well as your responsibilities in this relationship. This is your new normal.”

You can see this pattern in the opening three chapters, in which Moses reviews the work of God on Israel’s behalf. This review yields to theological propositions over the next seven chapters—where we realize that God’s unprecedented mercy cut both ways. Israel had to remember that their relationship to God had little to do with their present efforts (7:7; 9:6–8, 22–24) and everything to do with God’s past promise to the Patriarchs (1:8; 9:5; cf. also 5:15; 6:22–23).

As the Bible moves into the New Testament, we see that the Christian notion of redemption has nothing to do with a far-off monarch who demands our obedience—or else. Rather, Christian redemption is when God, the merciful sovereign, acts on behalf of his people because they cannot begin to fight for themselves. One cannot help but think of Jesus, who did not come to be serve but to serve—and to give his life as a ransom for many.

Or consider Ephesians 5:25–27, in which Paul tells us that Christ loves his church and gives himself “for her.” He finds joy in her purity and attachment to himself. Far from legalism, far from despotism, this monarch loves his people more and better than anyone could. He has given them the freedom to live “in the land,” and he’s teaching them to cultivate a deep hatred and abandonment for their sin.

Why would you follow any other king?

2. Deuteronomy displays the unprecedented sovereignty of God.

Deuteronomy highlights the absolute supremacy of God over the gods of the nations (4:35; 6:4; 33:26). Not too many deities are as audacious as Yahweh. The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob not only claims to own Israel as his own, but also postures himself as the chief of other peoples as well. We see this multiple times Deuteronomy 2 when God claims to have given Moab and Ammon their land (2:9).

Deuteronomy highlights God’s particular and absolute supremacy over Israel. He is Israel’s Rock (32:4, 15, 18, 30–31); he is a consuming presence, who is absolutely holy (4:24; 9:3; 33:2). He is merciful, loving, and faithful; he is the creator of humanity, the sovereign of all nations, the universal judge, and the sole controller of all creation. Though essentially distinct from creation, God is fully present and active in it. The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob alone is Father, Redeemer, Warrior, Protector, Provider, Restorer, and Savior, for all of Israel. He hates and punishes sin, and he detests all competitors to his people’s affections.

Deuteronomy’s emphasis on God’s sovereignty should motivate our worship and our commitment to cross-cultural missions. For both Israel then and Christians today, countless cultural competitors for the sovereign God exist. But if we’re seeing with proper eyes, we’ll discover the massive discrepancy between earthly rulers and their political shaped deities and the Lamb of God who was, and is, and is to come.

Concerning missions, God’s sovereignty offers us immense hope that the promise made to Abraham in Genesis 12 will result in the celebration we see in the book of Revelation, where every tribe tongue and people dance and feast around the throne of the Lamb.

3. Deuteronomy expects a “gut-level” response to God and to one another—it elicits both fear and love.

God demands that his people take seriously their internal compulsion to sin and their cultural impulse toward idolatry. Fundamental to Israel’s chief problem was that they were “gut-level” sinners. Deuteronomy calls them “rebellious” in (1:26, 43; 9:7, 23–24; 21:18, 20; 31:27). They’re “unbelieving” (1:32; 9:23; 28:66) and “stubborn of heart” (9:6, 13; 10:16; 31:27). These problems run deep, and they can’t be rectified by an external call to duty-bound obedience. Instead, what these people need is an internal call to surrender and rely on the only living God (4:39; 6:5–6; 8:5; 10:12-13, 16; 11:18; 26:16; 32:46).

Heartfelt love for God is the only adequate response to the covenant (6:4–6) because only heartfelt love can serve as our foundation for all obedience and worship. In Deuteronomy 6:4–6—the book’s central text, often called the “Shema”—it’s clear that God’s instruction, his torah, was to be so central and valuable to God’s people that it functioned as their natural topic of conversation, as the everyday discipling between parent and child.

Likewise, Deuteronomy cultivates a fear of God that’s rooted in God’s goodness and power on Israel’s behalf. Deuteronomy 8:6–10 rehearses God’s goodness to Israel in delivering them from Egypt. He sustained them in the wilderness and brought them into the Land. Moses states that they are to fear and obey (a common duo in Deuteronomy). What drives this “gut-level” response? It’s simply: God brought Israel into the good and abundant land that he promised them (8:7–9). He kept his promise, and their obedience flows from this conviction of God’s goodness.

Deuteronomy also encourages God’s people to take one another seriously. On more than one occasion, though Deuteronomy emphasizes covenant kindness to all within Israel’s reach, the book punctuates the serious responsibility that those in the covenant have for one another. Consider its insistence on caring for poor brothers and sisters, who will always be among them (15:1–18).

From our new covenant perspective, it’s necessary to understand that covenant obedience is driven fundamentally by the internal change that only comes through conversion. God’s grace trains and shapes us from the inside-out. We renounce old habits and embrace new ones as we long for the return of Christ and remain zealous for good works (Titus 2:11­–14). New Testament writers understand this type love for one another as normal Christian behavior. Some would even deny the title Christian to those without it (1 John 2:9–11).

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COMMENTARIES

  • Peter Craigie, Deuteronomy, NICOT Commentary Series. Craigie’s commentary is technical. If you don’t know Hebrew well, you may not benefit as much from Craigie’s work as you will from others. That said, it is, as most computers work, thorough and thoughtful.
  • Daniel Block, Deuteronomy, NIV Life Application Commentary. Block’s commentary is indicative of anything that you’ll pick up written by him. Thoroughly researched and well-written, it’s rather complex at points, but a knowledge of Hebrew isn’t necessary. One might note that there’s a lack of Christological interpretation in Block’s commentary.
  • Christopher Wright, Deuteronomy, Understanding the Bible Commentary Series. Wright’s book is far less complex than Craigie or Block. You could say it’s more of a theological commentary than a textual one, though Block’s doesn’t lack the theology nor does Wright’s commentary lack for serious textual analysis. No Hebrew needed for this one, either. Wright’s application at times is, in my opinion, a bit flat—and, much like Block, he seems to lack an adequate Christological format.
  • Edward J. Woods, Deuteronomy, Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries. Woods’ commentary is theological, Reformed, and doesn’t require any technical prowess. It’s helpful and devotional all at once. Woods provides an excellent companion for more technical works.

OTHER HELPFUL BOOKS

  • Aside from commentaries, I would also suggest Jason DeRouchie’s chapter on “Deuteronomy” in What the Old Testament Authors Really Cared About as an excellent theological introduction. This book gave me an overview for thinking through the categories of Deuteronomy for both my sermon series and this article.

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