26 Oct 2006

Deuteronomy #4: What Does it Mean to Love God?

Author: Bobby Valentine | Filed under: Bible, Deuteronomy, Exegesis, Grace, Hebrew Bible, Hermeneutics, Preaching
In previous posts I have argued that Deuteronomy revolves around three poles or centers of gravity: The Great Story of Redemption (the Exodus); The Great Commandment to Love God; and The Great Society of Loving neighbor. In this post I want to flesh this out some more in terms of the last two poles.

Deuteronomy raises the question “What does it mean to love God?” Love in Deuteronomy is always a verb, an action that finds focus in the values of Yahweh. God’s love toward Israel consisted of his deliverance of her out of Egypt, of his guidance through the wilderness, and of his gift of the promised land (cf. 26.5-9). So, too, Israel’s love for Yahweh was to be active obedience in response to his unconditional love. But Deuteronomy makes us go further and ask “What is the content of that obedience of love?” Concretely, what does the Lord command? All of the laws in Deuteronomy are intended to answer that question. They are explications of what it means to love God. In teaching these there is a plethora of material for contemporary churches.

Once again let me emphasize that these commandments are guides in the life of the already redeemed. These commands do not establish Israel’s relationship with God but guide her to a full life within the Covenant of Love.

Some of the commandments are no longer relevant to our lives. For example, we no longer have Levites (18.1-8), or wear robes with tassels (22.12), or lack modern plumbing (23.12-13). Some of the laws have been transformed in the coming of the Lord Jesus. Yet it is amazing how often the intention of these commands remain fully valid for Christians.

So if we ask what it means to love God? Deuteronomy answers that by giving us a picture of God’s People living as the Great Society. That is we love God by being proactive in our love to those around us. Thus to love God means:

1) To Love God means to show liberality and kindness supremely toward the poor and oppressed (15.1-18; 23.19-20; 24.14-15; 24. 19-22)

2) To Love God means to respect your neighbor’s property (19.14; 23.24-25) and to respect her dignity as a human being (24.10-11), even if she is a criminal to be punished (25.1-3)

3) To Love God means to actively protect your neighbor against accidents (22.8) and to help him out when he has suffered loss (22.1-4).

4) To Love God means to practice justice in court (16.18-20; 19.15-21; 24.17-18) and to be ethical in all business ventures (25.13-16)

5) To Love God means to recognize that there is a sphere of justice belonging to God alone, beyond human justice (19.1-10)

6) To Love God means to respect and protect the realm of nature as stewards of God’s good creation (5.14; 20.19-20; 22.6-7; 25.4)

7) To love God means to foster the well-being of the family (24.5; 22.13-21) and to protect the honor of the unmarried (22.23-29).

8) To Love God means, in short, to construct a society (i.e. what I call the Great Society) which reflects the justice, the love and the mercy of God himself (5.15; 15.15; 16.12; 24.18, 22) — surely a new phenomenon in the history of humanity. “We love because he first loved us” wrote John (1 Jn 4.19). John then asks how we can claim to love God whom we have not seen and hate our fellow human whom we have seen. He says it is impossible! But John is not being original in this insight rather he is echoing what Moses said in Deuteronomy millennia before.

But this is not the complete story of love in Deuteronomy. To love God in Deuteronomy also means to worship him in sincerity and truth. It means to offer Yahweh worthy sacrifices (17.1; 23.18), and to intend sincerely with the heart what we say and vow to him (23.21-23). To love God means to acknowledge with our gifts his blessing and ownership of all creation (15.19-20; 26.1-11) and it means to thank him with grateful hearts for his generous bounty.

Indeed, worship in Deuteronomy is above all a joyous occasion. Whether the occasion is one of the three great festivals (16.1-17), the fulfillment of a vow, a tithe, or a freewill offering (12.1-19; 14:22-29), a special day (27.1-18) or the offering of the first fruits (26.1-11). The thought is always that Israel shall “rejoice before the Lord” (12.7, 12, 18; 14:26; 16.11, 14; 26.11; 27.7) because she is worshiping a God who has first loved her.

Deuteronomy, the Gospel of Love, has much to teach us about what it means to love God by showing us what it means to love our neighbor. I hope we will spend some time reflecting deeply and theologically on what Deuteronomy teaches.

Bobby Valentine

20 Responses to “Deuteronomy #4: What Does it Mean to Love God?”

  1. preacherman Says:

    Excellent post.
    We cannot love God if we don’t love our neighbor. I believe to many Christians spend to much time defining what neighbor is instead of actually doing what we have been called. Love. If every minister would read and preach Deuteronomy the way you have presented it these past posts imagine what the church would like and do for the Kingdom.
    Good bless you brother.

  2. John Says:

    I’m definitely seeing new things in Deuteronomy. Thanks for the insight.

  3. Alan Says:

    Hi Bobby,

    I appreciate your thoughts about the love and grace of the old covenant. How did people ever get the idea that the God of love only made his appearance in the New Testament?


  4. Tim Archer Says:

    Good stuff, Bobby. I put my vote in for these ideas being developed into a book. Or maybe just a study guide for Bible classes. Something to help the ordinary member discover the treasures of Deuteronomy.

  5. Anonymous Says:


  6. preacherman Says:


  7. preacherman Says:

    I agree with Tim a book. A book with a study guide. You could name it,”Living the Kingdom Life.”

  8. ANON the comments Says:

    Just an observation.

    But first- I enjoy the entire post. I agree with the message. I like the teaching.

    Here is the observation.
    I have run the backtracks to most of those commenting about this Deuteronomy series and 80% are Pastors in their Churches. 100% of them wonder why this isn’t “being taught” or “how do we miss this”. Am I the only one who sees the incongruity of those leaders asking those types of questions?

    Who teaches and has control of what is being taught in your Churches? Is all teaching done from someone else’s study guides and lectionaries?

    These are sincere questions please don’t misunderstand me.


  9. Stoogelover Says:

    I taught through Deuteronomy a couple of years ago to a small group that met with me each week. They were amazed at the relevance of this ancient book! It is a fascinating study.
    Your article here is an excellent summary.

  10. Alan Says:

    Hi Anon,

    Maybe you are reading too much between the lines. It’s ok for people (even “pastors” as you put it) to learn something new from someone else.

  11. ANON the comments Says:

    Mr. Alan,
    Yes, perhaps so.

    I also agree that all can learn. It just seemed that most Pastors(?) commenting wrote as if they had never understood love and grace and the Spirit in the Old Testament.

    I have been led to understand that possibly the comments are more the result of professional hyperbole than what is actually happening in their Churches.

    Again, I apologize for any misunderstanding. I was just confused by the tenor of the comments.


  12. Jim Martin Says:

    You are doing a great series. This is a very good post which captures the heart of this wonderful book.

  13. Frank Bellizzi Says:

    Good stuff, Bobby. I plan to use some of what your outline here the next time I teach Dt. in the OT survey course. They need to hear more than, “Deut. is the second giving of the Law.” How did that ever even get started? (I know, with that later title, but what a mess).

  14. Stoned-Campbell Disciple Says:

    Anon, the Commentator,

    I am delighted you have stopped by to commentate

    Let me make two observations. First I think a good number of churches and even a good number of preachers do not have a healthy understanding of the Hebrew Bible. This has been a mission of mine for years and I have run across some abysmal views on the First Testament. Yes we do have our Marcionites.

    Second, with what I said above does not necessarily mean that no preacher is doing this kind of teaching and preaching. The preachers that come by my blog, I have noted, are pretty sharp. They have given me great hope. I pray for more of them.

    Thanks for coming by I hope you will continue to do so in the future.

    Bobby Valentine

  15. Stoned-Campbell Disciple Says:

    Frank please do not get me started on my “Deuteronomy the second giving of the law” nonsense rant. I covered some of that in my first Deuteronomy post which is linked here:


    I am delighted that you are finding some future use of this material.

    Bobby Valentine

  16. Carl Says:


    As several of us in our little congregation read through the Bible this year, some of the first timers had some comments that surprised me….like:

    “Wow, Leviticus is tough!”

    “Deuteronomy is such a change!”

    “I missed it in Exodus and Leviticus, but I got it in Deuteronomy!”

    “I thought God was mean in the Old Testament…but now I see His Love.”

    I am going to send some of them to read these posts.

    Thank you for the opportunity.

    May the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you always.


  17. John Roberts Says:

    Bobby – thoroughly enjoying reading your series on Deuteronomy. It is inspiring me to get into a deeper study of it so I can share it with my congregation. You have my vote also for developing the book / study guide.

  18. Stoned-Campbell Disciple Says:

    Carl and John thank you for the kind words.

    I am delighted when I hear that folks are reading the Gospel According to Moses.

    Bobby Valentine

  19. Candle (C & L) Says:

    Bobby – WOW — I’ve just been trying to break myself free of 50 years of hearing the process of “obeying the gospel” and living in the kingdom taught in terms of “technical compliance with rules (a legalistic view of grace)”– even though we taught that the NT was about grace in comparison to the OT “law” –and that we could not claim righteousness through “law-keeping” .

    So I had come to understand that that the NT is about grace – love – faith – not “legal compliance” but love based relationship — and was trying to root all the old ingrained “legalistic” thinking out of my 60 year old mind.

    Now you tell me that the flawed thinking has its roots in the premise that OT is Law and NT is grace.

    The implications that its all about grace – love and faith – from start to finish -is astounding. It makes my head hurt but hopefully makes my heart begin to really see God’s love and begins to move my heart towards loving others (relationship) rather than worrying so much about rule keeping –

    Again – I am on my knees in prayer — I am like the man who said to Jesus “Lord I believe- help me in my unbelief”.

    Thank you – you have packed so much into so little space. I will think on these things

    God Bless

  20. Anonymous Says:

    it is great assurance that god will love us for 1000 generations for those who ove him and obey his commands. i rejoice in that we still have along time in god’s lavish unfailing love. deuteronomy 5:10

Leave a Reply