The Bible was never meant to be studied alone. This past year, a Christian colleague and I gathered periodically to study. He suggested we explore Deuteronomy.[featured-image single_newwindow=”false”]
The study expanded us both. While we differ in our view of the Old Testament, we both came to see Deuteronomy as strikingly modern. The God it describes is accessible and universal.
The moral vision it presents challenges and enlarges us. The society it reflects resembles our own.[callout]If you are Christian or a Jew beginning to study the Old Testament, I suggest starting with Deuteronomy. [/callout] Here’s what you might discover.
1. The God of Deuteronomy is more accessible than in other book of the Torah: God is eternal and unchangeable. But the way we relate to God evolves over time. The God we pictured when we were four, for example, differs from the God we picture when we are 40.
In the Book of Exodus, God inflicts ten horrendous plagues on Egypt. In the Book of Leviticus God enjoys the smell of the animal sacrifices offered by the Israelites.
In Deuteronomy, however, God is not described in such dramatic action and sensory detail.
God is a presence, a force for justice, whose word is revealed through the prophet Moses. God is much closer to the “still small voice” later heard by the prophet Elijah. God is much closer—at least for me—to the presence we feel today.
2. The Culture of Deuteronomy is more modern: In the first four books of the Bible, the Israelites are a nomadic people. They are shepherds and herdsmen, resembling the few Bedouins groups that remain today.
Deuteronomy describes a more settled agricultural people. They farm and trade. They welcome immigrants from other countries. They have more sophisticated systems of social welfare. They have more centralized administrative structures. In other words, their society more closely resembles our own.
What this means is that the laws God reveals in Deuteronomy remain especially relevant. God is concerned with immigration, telling us not oppress the stranger because we were strangers in the land of Egypt.
3. The Hero of Deuteronomy is profoundly human: The end of Deuteronomy contains a most poignant scene.
Moses stands at edge of the Promised Land. He has dedicated his whole life to bringing his people there. Yet, he will not enter it. He will only be able to see it from afar, to look down into its peaks and valleys.
Moses is prophet, but he is also a human being with shortcoming and failures. He is not a perfect father. He is not a perfect husband. He does not Iive to see all his dreams fulfilled.
Yet he lives a full life. He dies with “eyes undimmed” and “vigor unabated.” He struggles to suck very morsel out of life. In doing so, he has something to teach us all.