Thoughts on Deuteronomy (“the second law”): The last book of the Pentateuch (five first books of the Bible), it is effectively the last will and testament of Moses, in the form of a speech delivered just before the Israelites were to cross the Jordan, heading west, to take possession of the promised land. In it Moses recounts some of the historical highlights of the exodus thus far for a new generation that may only have heard of some of the wonders God did for the people. He also gives warnings, blessings, reminders and directions for the stages to come, in which he will not take part. Joshua is to take over the leadership after this. Perhaps this is the book of the law that was re-discovered in the temple, after a long period of ignorance, during the reign of King Josiah (2 Chronicles 34). In Chapter 5 we find, restated, the Ten commandments, essentially the same as in Exodus 20. But note the difference in regard to the Sabbath. In this restatement, the Sabbath serves as a reminder of their liberation from slavery in Egypt, where they existed only to serve the Egyptians as workers. The Sabbath reminds them, and us, of our dignity apart from work, that we don’t live to work, but that we work to live. In Deuteronomy 6 we read the Great Commandment, “Hear, O Israel, the Lord your God is One, and you shall love the Lord with all your heart, mind and strength.” In Dt. 8:3, we read the words that Jesus quoted to the Evil One who tempted him in the desert (where the Israelites were also tempted), “Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.” Thus Jesus recapitulates the desert sojourn of his people, and succeeds where they so often failed.
Though we do not live under the multitude of detailed laws of food, dress, etc., but rather, by faith in God’s faithfulness, Deuteronomy tells us much about the attitude and orientation of faith, of its benefits, character, trials and temptations. The stance of devotion, trust and obedience that Moses wants for his people is essentially the same for every disciple of Jesus. Moses’ vision of a just and equitable society, in which “You shall not withhold the laborer’s wages,” in which “You shall not close up your heart against your brother,” and in which “there shall be no poor among you” (because of the hospitality and generosity of God’s people) is still operative in the New Testament. And the welfare and security of God’s people still rests upon God’s love and faithfulness, and not upon their own goodness or greatness (Dt. 4: 32-38).
MORE THOUGHTS ON HOLY WAR IN THE OLD TESTAMENT
The Exodus and conquest of Canaan were, at heart, a war of God against the gods, of the invisible God, who is Spirit, against the gods that were understood to take the shapes of idols, people (kings, priests, diviners, magicians and soothsayers) and created things, like stars, planets, animals and plants, sometimes simultaneously. It was the campaign of God against divinized persons, deified desires and sacralized politics and economies, like those of imperial Egypt. It was the campaign of the God who would liberate people from the injustice and oppression of these divinized people and systems, thus restoring their humanity and dignity, as through the sabbath or the jubilee laws and years.
This is especially clear in Deuteronomy 7: 26: “Don’t put in your house any abominable thing [see verse 25: the idols and the riches of idolatry], for then you would be consecrated to destruction with them. Abhor them, detest them, for they are destined for extermination.”
In effect, God is warning and warring against the gods in all their forms. They are doomed, not only in ancient Palestine, but even more so at the end of this age. Anyone who cherishes these things and clings to them will go down with them, perhaps even along with any for whom they are responsible, in the case of the Egyptians and the Canaanites, their wives, children, servants and livestock.
We also are called to enlist in God’s campaign against the gods. And the stakes are every bit as high for the world today as they were in ancient Canaan. But “our warfare is not against flesh and blood but against the principalities and powers and spiritual wickedness in high places (Eph. 6:12).” There are also divinized people and deified desires and totems claiming our absolute worship, allegiance and human sacrifice, through war and injustice. The battle field is within our own hearts and minds, against our own fear, greed, indifference, our love of false gods, and our divided loyalties.
PSALM 15: a Wisdom Psalm, in that it defines, or describes, wisdom, but in the context of worship and faith.
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