One of the challenges to reading straight through the Bible is getting through all of the repetition in Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. It just seems the books could have been a lot shorter if the Lord didn’t repeat Himself so often.
In one sense, so much repetion is helpful. It reminds us that God doesn’t change. As I show many times in this blog, the same gospel runs from Genesis 1 to Revelation 22. But the Lord unveils the details of His salvation progressively, like a great musical conductor who has arranged a concert for us. He plans to thrill his audience so people jump out of their seats to join the orchestra.
At first, the curtains are closed. We don’t know much, but we know more is coming. We can hear the sounds of specific instruments warming up; we might also recognize the voices of friends; and we know why we’re here. He’s already advertised this as his show.
As the curtains gradually part and the lights slowly come up, we see and hear more clearly. And as the concert progresses, we see more of the conductor’s excellence, what he’s accomplished with his people, and we want even more. We want to be on stage with him to draw others to hear and join the show, too.
That is what it means for the Scriptures to be consistent yet progressive in their revelation of God’s Son. The New Testament conveys this truth by referring to Jesus many times as God’s “mystery” or “secret”, depending on your translation (Romans 16:25, 1 Corinthians 2:7, Ephesians 3:1-9, Colossians 1:24-29, 1 Timothy 3:14-16, Revelation 10:5-7, etc.). The original Greek work in those passages is “mysterion” (μυστήριον). In modern culture it has come to mean something that is hard to understand. But the old French comes closer to the original Greek meaning : a hidden spiritual truth that is slow to be revealed.
So, of course, some things in Deuteronomy are different or, more accurately, “new”.
First, with the exception of Joshua and Caleb, the book records God’s work with an entirely new generation. Because most doubted God’s promise to give them the Promise Land, He took the whole nation back to wander in the wilderness for 40 years until all but the two who believed died (Numbers 14:1ff and 32:12).
This is meant to be simultaneously fearsome and freeing news: the Lord is absolutely serious about His people resting in His promises. Trusting in ourselves or doubting Him (flip-sides of the same deadly coin) is not an option. And that leads us to a second part of Deuteronomy that’s new.
When we look closely, we’ll see that the reason for keeping the fourth Commandment in Exodus 20:11 is not the reason God gives in Deuteronomy 4:15. In fact, it’s the only part of that Ten Commandments that changes. Exodus records the Lord bringing Israel out of Egypt. And in chapter 20, we see the Lord calling them to observe the Sabbath as a weekly sign of their complete rest in Him based on the fact that He is the Creator. As Creator He has proven His trustworthiness by His strength and general goodness of common graces to the whole earth.
In Deuteronomy’s statement of the 10 Commandments, however, the Lord reminds the new generation that He is also Savior for them and for all who submit to Him as a permanent member of His covenant community (Exodus 12:43-45). As Savior, He proved His specific saving love and power, so we are to trust Him fully, not just to take care of our created bodies but also our hearts. Epecially the New Testament tells us that God’s deliverance of His people from Egypt to the Promised Land was primarily a metaphor for spiritual salvation, not merely better real estate in Canaan. Some of the clearest passages on this truth are 1 Corinthians 10 and Hebrews 4:1-13.
Why is this important for us today? Sadly, many preachers and teachers are trying to get rich by distorting the truth to sell a fake gospel about physical things in life: a “health and wealth” gospel. But that lie is not new to our generation. Godly prophets and Apostles condemned and warned against this same corruption when other false teachers tried to fleece God’s flock (Ezekiel 34:2-31, Jeremiah 25:34ff, 1 Timothy 6:6-10, Jude verse 12, etc.). We must always seek first His righteousness, encourage others to do the same, and remember that His promise to bless those who follow Him by faith refers to meeting what we need to follow Him, not necessarily we want to settle down in our own kingdoms. (Matthew 6:19-33)
Lastly (just to keep this article from being too long), there is also a new intensity to God’s blessings and curses. From Deuteronomy 28 onward, the Lord elaborates on detailed, amazing rewards awaiting those who honor Him and an equally long and specific list of judgments on those who will not. But we shouldn’t be surprised at so much passion. The Lord is not being anxious or reactive. His greater passion is what we would expect from any devoted spouse who wants more for and from the love of their life. He is encouraging them and warning them about what could lay ahead, and He is calling them to be faithful for the bliss they can share together. But, again, the new intensity is based in the same message we saw in the two trees in Eden: we can seek independence and find death or we can trust Him and enjoy life in paradise.
If we truly love the Lord and others, we, too, must encourage and warn them about what it means to walk with God. If we only encourage them with salvation, we are really teaching them a false gospel that the Lord is weak, sentimental, and lonely. But that’s not true. God has always been in perfect relationship: Father, Son, and Spirit. And if we only warn them of damnation, we relay an equally distorted message that He is an overbearing dictator who cares for no one. That’s not true either. Jesus’ public life proved God’s love.
The true Lord is both holy and gracious. We see both in Jesus’ death on the cross. There the Father punishes our sin that Christ took on Himself and forgives us by crediting us with His righteousness (2 Corinthians 5:18-21). Some say the Father is the judgemental God of the Old Testament, and Jesus is the forgiving God of the New Testament. But the Lord Jesus Himself told His Disciples “If you have seen me, you have seen the Father.” (John 14:9). Scripture shows us that they and the Spirit are three separate Persons (Matthew 12:28 and 28:19, Mark 1:9-11, Galatians 4:6, etc.), but they have the same holy character, plan, and goal of His glory (see Jesus’ prayer in John 17).
What else do you see in Deuteronomy? Dig in and see even more of Christ for greater joy in Him.
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