10 Oct 2006

Deuteronomy: Gospel of Love #1

Author: Bobby Valentine | Filed under: Deuteronomy, Exegesis, Grace, Hebrew Bible, Hermeneutics, Preaching

Deuteronomy is one of the greatest books in Scripture. While such a statement would hardly raise an eyebrow in the field of Hebrew Bible studies, it is often accompanied with shock and disbelief with Christians and their preachers. The influence of Deuteronomy is acknowledged by all biblical scholars on the rest of the Bible.

The section of Scripture that runs from Joshua through 2 Kings (minus Ruth) is a single work of history dating to the time of the Exile that is called the Deuteronomistic History (DtH) because its theological approach to history is rooted in Deuteronomy. A number of the prophets, especially Jeremiah, is shaped by this great book of the Bible. Outside the canonical Hebrew Scripture the influence of Deuteronomy is acknowledged in such apocryphal books as Judith, Tobit, and most of the Maccabean literature.

The importance of Deuteronomy for the owners of the Dead Sea Scrolls is evident. The thirty-three copies, or portions, of Deuteronomy found at Qumran is exceeded only by Psalms (40, some of which are mixtures). By comparison there are 15 for Genesis, 15 for Exodus, 18 for Isaiah, 2 for Proverbs, 1 for Ezra-Nehemiah and 0 for Esther. Similar kinds of statistics are true for the New Testament itself. Only Psalms and Isaiah are quoted more in the NT than Deuteronomy (according the UBS Greek NT 4th Revised and Corrected edition the numbers are Ps, 79x; Isa., 65x; Deut., 50x). Indeed all three of Jesus’ scriptural quotations while in the desert doing battle with Satan come from Deuteronomy.

Yet the experience of ancient biblical writers and the Essenes is most often not paralleled by many Christians who have been influenced by the Greeks and have thought less of Deuteronomy (scholarship underwent a “conversion” of sorts about a century ago). The name “Deuteronomy” comes from a mistranslation in the Septuagint of 17.18 “second giving of the law“. The Hebrew title is ‘elleh haddebarim or “these are the words.” When I was an undergrad student I learned nothing about Deuteronomy, except that it was the “second giving of the law.” In “Old Testament” survey we did not spend even five minutes on the book. This unfortunately is not a unique happening. It was not until graduate school that I learned just how fundamentally wrong headed my perspective was and how central Deuteronomy has been for “Old Testament” studies for a century or more.

Deuteronomy is anything but a mere second giving of the law. Deuteronomy is theological hermeneutics on a grand scale. The person of Moses does in the guise of three speeches takes the entire Torah and casts Israel’s relationship with Yahweh into something everyone can grasp: a Covenant of Love. There are three, unequal, gravitational centers to Deuteronomy (they are the black holes that control everything). Everything revolves around these three … or perhaps just one. Perhaps we could think of these gravitational centers as the Sun, Jupiter and Saturn in the Solar System. They are:

1) The Great Story of God’s Mighty Acts (the Exodus, the grace of liberation from Egypt)

2) The Great Commandment (the response of love to Yahweh’s Mighty Acts)

3) The Great Society (the redeemed community becomes the kingdom of God on earth)

Every line in the book of Deuteronomy falls into an orbit around one of these centers, including the command about boiling a kid in its mother’s milk.

I began this post with a few stats and I will end with some that are amazing. The word “love” is the controlling word in Deuteronomy occuring at least 21x (for the sake of comparison “love” occurs in the NIV of the Gospel of John 27x, Acts 0x and Romans 14x); “heart” occurs another 25x; the cognates “joy” or “rejoice” occur another dozen times (always in the context of worship).

In our next installment I will list a few passages from Deuteronomy that simply torpedo that old saw that affirms the Torah is external and “fleshy” … rather Deuteronomy is in fact Moses’ Gospel of Love: God’s Love for Israel, Our Love for Yahweh, and our love for our neighbor.

Bobby Valentine
See Posts in this series:
Deuteronomy: Gospel of Love #2http://www.blogger.com/img/blank.gif
People of the Great Story: Deut 6.20-25
Deuteronomy: What Does it Mean to Love God?
The Gift of Life: Deut 30.11-19

19 Responses to “Deuteronomy: Gospel of Love #1”

  1. Brian Nicklaus Says:

    Thanks for the post. Deut is one of my favorites. IMHO, only Isaiah can compare for beautiful passages, statements, and concepts. If Christians would just read through it, they would highlight lots of beautiful verses. Looking forward to more.

  2. Anonymous Says:


    Great post.
    Yeah, I like Deuteronomy too and I like the concept that each of Moses’ books are a “treatise” on something. Most try to ‘synopticise’ (you like that word…it’s yours you can use it for free) the Pentateuch as they do the Gospels (something else that shouldn’t be done).

    I was wondering if you had ever considered the theological implications and or ramifications of the existence of the Transjordan tribes and their acceptance by God and their need to “to go before the Lord” in the conquest?

    anonymous 😉
    I wonder who I am? 🙂

  3. Wade Tannehill Says:

    Great introduction to Deuteronomy. What a gift you have for making the complex easier to understand. Love that concise definition of Deuteronomistic history. Did you learn anything about Genesis in undergrad? 🙂

  4. DJG Says:

    I appreciate this post as well. Maybe it will help me approach this book with a new attitude. I always enjoy it, but inevitably get bogged down.

  5. Falantedios Says:

    I have a notebook where I just read Deuteronomy and wrote down the verses that blew me away. My writing went on for 4 or 5 pages anyway.

    “Therefore circumcise the foreskin of your heart and be stiff-necked no longer…”

    “For the poor will never cease from the land; therefore I command you, saying, ‘You shall open your hand wide to your brother, to your poor and your needy, in the Lord…'”

    “The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but those things which are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of the law…”

    “The word is very near you, in your mouth and in your heart, that you may do it.”

    “Rejoice, O Gentiles, with his people, and let all the angels worship him; for he will avenge the bood of his servants, and render vengeance to his adversaries; he will provide atonement for his land and his people.”

    in HIS love,

  6. preacherman Says:

    Excellent post.
    Deuteronomy is definately one of the greatest books in the Bible. I love the emphasis on the God who does love us and who has called us to love him in return.

    The greatest book next to the Bible is definately Kingdom Come! 🙂

    Keep up the great posts.
    Excellent thoughts as always.
    God bless you Bobby!

  7. Angie Says:

    Hey there Bobby…
    Just wanted you to know that I FINALLY own a copy of Kingdom Come! There was a stack for sale at the ZOE Conference in Nashville, so I couldn’t resist!

    And, yes, I’m one of those people shocked by your statement that Deuteronomy is one of the greatest books… So I really appreciate this post and all your brilliant commenters!

    And I dig you because you aren’t just all smarts without the heart… I adore “He Reigns” too!

  8. Velcro Says:

    Bobby, you make the Old Testament enjoyable.

  9. Bill Says:

    Thanks, Bobby, for this outstanding introduction to Deuteronomy. Well, actually, in my estimation, it is more of an inducement to read and study this portion of God’s Word. Jolly good show, mate! -bill

  10. Frank Bellizzi Says:

    Ah, yes. Preaching from Jesus’ Bible. Good stuff, Bobby!

  11. Dee O'Neil Andrews Says:

    I’ve always heard Deuteronomy referred to as the “Second giving of the law” so I’ll have to “look again” into it with a different light and heart.

    Thanks, Bobby

  12. David Cook Says:

    Good Post Bobby,

    The beauty of Deuteronomy is the vocabulary used to describe the emotion that God felt for Israel and the devotion he has for the covenants. It is to me a marriage contract between two lovers. God’s effection is discussed and his remembrance of his promises. (cf Deut 7) God has a personal interest in the people of Israel.
    I am also amazed at the rich theological connection between this text and the gospel of John. Both written to the redeemed community so that they mght have life.

    The calling to the anceint text testifies to our changeless God who indeed loves forever.

  13. Stoned-Campbell Disciple Says:

    Dee the old saw about Dt being “the second giving of the law” is hard to put down. It completly misses the character of the book though. We can thank the a mistranslation for that misdirection.

    David thanks for the words. I hesitate to use the word “contract” though simply because it often implies something that is not present in biblical theology. I prefer the word “covenant” … Deuteronomy uses the phrase “covenant of love.”

    Bobby Valentine

  14. Jason Says:

    Just recently stumbled across your blog, but thanks for the post on Deuteronomy. Looking forward to the next installment.

  15. Minkydo Says:

    Interesting take on Deut. I am looking forward to reading more of your thoughts.

  16. Tim Archer Says:

    If you read closely, it’s hard to see how anyone could compare Deuteronomy to “the first giving of the law” (is that the end of Exodus and Leviticus, or how do they count that?).

    I’ve been surprised over the years how many times I find myself going to Deuteronomy; such a rich book. I too look forward to your further thoughts.

  17. Velcro Says:

    Fo’ Shizzo’

  18. Kathy Says:

    Yes indeed, a great post!

    I’ve always had a great love for the OT – the richness of language, of poetry as well as the undeniable presence of God in these great books.

    Bless Bobby for making one the greatest of these books so accessible. I’m sorry to say I’ve yet to read one of your books, but will definitely be looking for one. Your own writings here reflect the great majesty God has given us in these wonderous writings.

    I’ve always believed if the followers of Jesus are lacking in acqaintence with God in the OT, our belief can end being very shallow. The OT is our history too.

    Again, thank you Bobby! and as you are wont to say,



  19. Paul Cooper Says:


    I’m writing to ask if you’ll expand on the source(s) of your sense that “covenant” – if I’m understanding your correctly – “apparently” is devoid of any sense of “contract”.

    I thought that I still had an old pamphlet study by a Dr. George Mendenhall of the University of Pennsylvania – if I’m recalling correctly. However, I can’t locate it and I may well have included it in several books and pamphlets that I sold several years ago.

    However, my recall is that he was illustrating from archaeology and other sources that “covenant” was both a legal term, as well as an existential experience in the ancient Middle East.

    I don’t recall if it was Dr. Mendenhall where I gained the idea; however, my recall is that “covenant” involved the linguistic sense of “a cutting of the covenant” – in which two or more persons entering into an agreement would slaughter an animal, pass and clasp hands through the bloody entrails – signifying the sense that betrayal of their agreement by either, was justification for the offended party to do to the other party what had been done to the slaughtered animal.

    True, it’s a brutal and somewhat revolting to image and consider. My sense, however, is that we haven’t come very far from that mindset today. We simply hire attorneys and, thereby, remove ourselves – a step or so – from actual and personal involvement – at least, in our thinking.

    What has remained with me across many years, however, is that the sense of “cutting a covenant” is language that still remains with us.

    How many times have we had a friend refer us to someone with the expression, “that he or she will cut you a good deal” – in reference to an item or goods that we desired to purchase?

    Thus, my point – and I wish that I still had the Dr. Mendenhall pamphlet to review and reference in writing this – is that I think the OT writers used a common, everyday, familiar term – “covenant” – to which they then nuanced and expanded Israel’s sense of understanding and perceptions through teachings and stories from Israel’s life as a people – illustrating and framing the theological meanings and attributes inherent and reflective of JAHWEH and his “covenant” love and faithfulness.

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