On Sunday, we as a church at Calvary are going to begin a brand-new series of messages in the biblical book of Deuteronomy. *record player screeches to a halt, and the room goes quiet* Deuteronomy?!? Really?!? When I first announced this plan to our congregation a couple months ago, you could hear both chuckles and groans throughout the room. I don’t know if I’ve ever surprised people more by a simple sermon series (Not even with 25 weeks in Job!). We’re going to spend the vast majority of time as a church in this ancient Old Testament book for the next 10 months. So before I get going, I thought it would be good to explain just WHY we’re doing this.
1. It’s all part of a balanced diet
When I first became a pastor, I received the charge to “preach the Word” (2 Timothy 4:2) and to do as the apostle Paul did in Acts 20:27 and “not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God.” The whole counsel of the Word of God includes the whole Word of God. Just as we need to eat a physical diet from a balance of different food groups, Christians need a spiritual diet from all kinds of biblical genres and locations—including the parts that tend to be under-consumed by us.
Right before giving that charge to Timothy to “preach the Word,” Paul gave us one of our most familiar teachings about God’s Word: “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17). This means that all Scripture has some benefit for us New Covenant believers: even 2 Chronicles, Numbers, Zechariah, Song of Solomon, and, yes, Deuteronomy. All Scripture. A gift from God to us. To teach us. To reprove us. To correct us. And to train us in righteousness. We can’t shrink away from this, or else we miss out on the fullest riches of what God has for us.
2. It’s a hugely significant part of Scripture
For its strategic place at the conclusion of the Torah, its summary preaching of God’s moral law, and its pervasive use throughout Scripture, Deuteronomy is extremely important. There is perhaps no book that is more heavily relied on throughout the rest of the Old Testament, especially in the prophets. Deuteronomy contains the law that was commanded to be read every year by the people of Israel (see Deuteronomy 31:9-13). And along with Genesis, Psalms, and Isaiah, it is one of the most quoted books in the New Testament as well! 21 out of 27 New Testament books reference it. In his temptation in the wilderness, Jesus quoted from Deuteronomy all three times he responded to the devil. There are many well-known concepts, sayings, and verses that you may have no idea originated in Deuteronomy.
If this was something that God wanted his people to consistently dwell on, it would behoove us to do the same. Just think of how many times the psalmist talks about loving God’s law in Psalm 119! The scholar Daniel Block summarizes this thought: “For many Christians the Old Testament in general and Deuteronomy in particular is a dead book. Consequently, the favourite book of Jesus is ignored, the source of much Johannine and Pauline theology is discarded, and the life-giving power of the Word of God is cut off. Unless we rediscover this book, we will not treasure the Old Testament as a whole.”
3. It will help us know God better
Despite what some people may think or believe, the God of the Old Testament is the same as the God of the New Testament. (That’s a topic for another day!) But this means that the Old Testament has much to teach us about the character and person of God. God speaks in Deuteronomy. God moves his people. God shows his emotions (anthropomorphically speaking, of course… Big word? Look it up). God exhibits his power. God expresses his love. In other words, God reveals himself to us in Deuteronomy. For us who want to know God more, why would we ever want to ignore this?
4. It will teach us about how to please God
The majority of the book of Deuteronomy consists of Moses giving a retelling of God’s law for the Israelites. Why would we want to study the law though? Well, ultimately, the law teaches us what God desires from his saved people. Yes, Jesus fulfilled the Mosaic law. Yes, our context is different now. So no, not every law will apply to us in the same way. But the principles that underlie each command can be applied to God’s people for all time. So Deuteronomy will teach us how to please God—perhaps not precisely, but principally.
And we must learn to please God. After all, the greatest, most supreme commandment ever given is: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.” By the way, that’s from Deuteronomy.
5. It will remind us of what God has done, and help us trust him in the future
This was one of the main goals Moses set out to achieve through his speeches in Deuteronomy. The people of Israel were about to enter the Promised Land. But they had been there before, and had failed… Leading to 40 years of God’s disciplinary action in the wilderness. Now that generation was gone, and a new one was rising up. They needed to be told of how God had rescued them in the past. They needed to hear of how his voice thundered at Sinai. They needed to listen to the stories of God’s victories on their behalf. And they needed to know just how badly their fathers and mothers had failed. They needed to know these things so they would trust God in the adventures that laid just around the corner.
And so do we. We don’t know what will happen tomorrow, and we need to trust God with our future—and in the future. So we want to recall what God has done, in order to praise him, love him, and trust him more. (Plus, we might just happen to learn a bit from others’ failures! 1 Corinthians 10:11 tells us that the things that happened to the people of Israel “happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come.” So the accounts we’ll read were meant for our benefit, believe it or not.)
6. It will point us to Jesus
We know that one of the main purposes of the law given in Scripture was to expose our need of a Saviour. We cannot keep the law perfectly, no matter how hard we try. As Galatians 3:24 says, “the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith.” This doesn’t make the law meaningless. Quite the contrary! It makes it even more important, as it means it points us to the salvation that Christ accomplished on our behalf!
In Deuteronomy, we will read of the law Jesus fulfilled, but never abolished (Matthew 5:17-20). There are good reasons why he hasn’t abolished it. And, again and again, I believe we will see Deuteronomy reveal who we are, who God is, and take us by the shoulders and point us ahead to how this God saves us in Christ.
So that’s the plan. We’re going to set out on this journey carefully, and we may have to do a lot of digging and contextualizing at times. We’ll have to explain and summarize a lot. We’ll be forced to deal with some fairly controversial topics (holy war, anyone?). But at the end of the day, I’m praying that we’ll be able to clearly see how this portion of God’s Word fits into God’s grand story of redemption, and how it speaks into our lives even now.