When we hear the word “Law” our minds are taken to a modern day definition, which is generally negative. We think of strict rules intended to control others or to take away their (our) fun. Don’t get me wrong, we like modern laws when they keep someone else in check, but not so much when it affects us. And when it comes to God’s Law, we often believe their only purpose was to demonstrate we are sinners. That isn’t to say it doesn’t, but neither was it intended to be seen in a negative light.
Let’s define Law. It is the Hebrew word Torah (תורה). It means divine instruction of the will of Yahweh. That is different than the way we normally think of the word.
Deuteronomy was written so Moses could explain the law (1:5). The first generation did not trust Yahweh (Ex. 14:11; Deut. 1:32) and was doomed to die in the wilderness and not allowed to enter the Promised Land (Num. 20:12). So Deuteronomy was given to prepare the second generation to possess the land of promise. The Law was designed to teach them how to live in the land, and what may shock you, the Law was a way of restoring what was lost in the Garden of Eden. What!? The language of Genesis 1-3 fills this book. The first generation ended up like Adam and Eve (Gen. 3:19, 23-24).
Deuteronomy 1:19-38 recounts the incident with the 12 spies and Israel’s failure to believe the LORD your God (1:32). Suddenly, Moses begins speaking about the next generation through the language of Eden.
Deuteronomy 1:39, As for your little ones, who you said would become a prey, and your children, who today have no knowledge of good or evil, they shall go in there. And to them I will give it, and they shall possess it. (emphasis mine)
Do you see it? What was the one tree Adam and Eve were forbidden to partake? The tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Gen. 1:9, 17; 3:2-5). Metaphorically they are depicted as not parting of the forbidden tree.
What is the point? The second generation were as Adam and Eve before the Fall. They were still trusting God to provide the good land. By the way, did you notice how many times Deuteronomy refers to the Promised Land the good land? Just as Genesis 1 refers to the created world as good. The first man and woman were placed in the Garden (Gen. 2:8), so the Creator will once again place the second generation in the Promised Land. Even it’s description is Eden like.
Deuteronomy 8:7-10, For the LORD your God is bringing you into a good land, a land of brooks of water, of fountains and springs, flowing out in the valleys and hills (compare with Gen. 2:9-14), a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive trees and honey, a land in which you will eat bread without scarcity, in which you will lack nothing (compare to Gen. 1:11-12, 29; 2:16), a land whose stones are iron, and out of whose hills you can dig copper (compare 2:11-12). And you shall eat and be full, and you shall bless the LORD your God for the good land he has given you. (emphasis mine)
And what was one of the blessings of possession of the good land? They would greatly multiply (6:3; 8:1; 13:17), as Adam and Eve would be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth (Gen. 1:28).
And get this, when God gives them the land they will receive rest (3:20; 12:10 – נוח), the same word in Genesis 2:15, when the Creator placed Adam and Eve in the Garden. The Hebrew verb is “the act of resting or settling upon something or giving rest.” The Promised Land is seen as a return to Eden, though not fully restored.
More? The second generation was taught, as the first, to listen to the statutes and the rules Moses is teaching them that they may live, and go in and take possession of the land that the LORD, the God of your fathers, is giving you (Deut. 4:1). The Law was a symbol of life, which means disobedience symbolizes death. Adam and Eve were told the day they disobeyed the Creator’s law, eating from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, they would experience death (Gen. 2:17). All they had to do was trust God and live. The Promised Land is filled with everything Israel would need and more. Yahweh’s instructions were wise and would cause the other nations to sit up and say, “Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.” (4:5-6) There is something different about the Hebrew concept of Law and our English definitions.
However, Moses gives a stern warning about idolatry. The LORD is a jealous God (4:24). It shouldn’t surprise us Moses included the incident with the Golden Calf (9:13ff). Worshipping idols was a breech of covenant – the Ten Commandments (4:13; 5:6-21). If they return to idols they will face the consequences of the Fall – exile (4:25-27). Even so, the merciful God will not leave them or destroy them off the face of the earth. He does not forget His part of the covenant (4:31), and if they will seek Yahweh again, they will find Him (4:29).
Why follow the instructions of God? Why not live on our own knowledge of good and evil? Israel’s story is similar to our own. We too are saved by God’s grace, or what the Hebrew Scriptures refer to as steadfast love (hesed – חסד). Can you see the story of Jesus and our salvation in these verses?
Deuteronomy 9:4-5, “Do not say in your heart, after the LORD your God has thrust them out before you. ‘It is because of my righteousness that the LORD has brought me in to possess this land.‘ whereas it is because of the wickedness of the nations that the LORD is driving them out before you. Not because of your righteousness or the uprightness of your heart are you going in to possess their land, but because of the wickedness of these nations the LORD your God is driving them out from before you… (emphasis mine)
Paul quotes another Old Testament verse to say “None is righteous, no, not one.” (Rom. 3:10) He points to Abraham to say he was not justified by works in order to boast before God (Rom. 4:1-3).
Wait a minute, then how are we justified? The righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation (a means of appeasing wrath and gaining the good will of the offended person) by his blood, to be received by faith (Rom. 3:22-25)
Abraham was justified by faith and saved by God’s grace.
Israel justified by faith and saved by God’s grace.
We are justified by faith and saved by God’s grace.
Now watch this. Deuteronomy 10 gives the proper response to the grace of God:
- Fear the Lord, walk in His ways, love Him, serve Him with all your heart and soul, and keep the commandments (10:12-13)
- Love the sojourner – foreigner – stranger – alien in the land (10:19).
- Another way of saying, “Love God and love your neighbor.” Sound familiar?
Deuteronomy 11 is a call to love Yahweh and obey His will because they had seen His mighty works. Remember, Moses is addressing the second generation. They were only children when they saw the powerful works of God. But now they were responsible to share God’s great acts grace to those who had not seen with their own eyes. Thankfully, they would not be left without a witness. The generations to follow, even to our own, will see in the words of Scripture.
Why do we obey God’s Word? “To go to heaven?” “To stay out of hell?” Even for Israel, it wasn’t based on their goodness. It was faith – trust in God. We obey God’s Word because of the goodness, grace, mercy, redemption, love, deliverance, blessings, faithfulness, covenant, presence and even jealously and discipline of the LORD. We obey because God’s Will is wise and good.
God’s Word is a return to Eden. We must not allow the world to tempt us to discard the instruction of God, as the snake in the Garden. We hold to the Creator’s view of the sanctity of life, what constitutes sexual immorality, caring for the poor, loving the foreigner, etc. We follow them, not for fear of being struck down, but out of extreme trust that God wants to bless us. We all stand before our own tree of knowledge of good and evil to determine if we trust our Creator and Redeemer or our own concept of good and evil. Only one leads to blessings and the other a curse.
The Bible Project just put out a new video on “Reading Biblical Law” which is excellent. Let me also encourage you to read another article to boost your love and appreciation for the instruction of Yahweh. It is called Love & Grace: Moses’ Torah of Prayer by Bobby Valentine.
*All Scripture quoted from the English Standard Version
*Blog resources: The Pentateuch as Narrative by John H. Sailhamer; Lexham Theological Wordbook