Old Deuteronomy

What was Moses thinking when he made his last speech to the people of Israel just before they entered the Promised Land? 

Many years had passed since he first led them out of Egyptian slavery, through the Red Sea, up to Mt. Sinai, and into the wilderness where, because of their disobedience, they wandered for forty years. It was quite an adventure!

Now they are standing on the brink of the Promised Land. They will enter it, but he will not. His job is done, and he must entrust his life’s work to the next generation of leaders. What will he say to them?

With apologies to the famous Broadway musical, what Moses gave them was this: Old Deuteronomy, a book filled with laws as obscure to us as the plot line to "Cats." 

If we focus on these, we will be mystified. But if we pay attention to its fundamental message, we will find wisdom to help us as we navigate our way forward into the future God has for us.

The central theme of Deuteronomy is found in these famous words -- words which Jewish people have recited twice daily for several thousand years, and which Jesus himself quoted in the New Testament:

Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might (6:4-5).
Two key verbs unlock the essence of the command: “Hear” and “Love.”

In Hebrew, the word for “Hear” is Shema, which is the informal title for this Jewish prayer. Shema means much more than to simply listen; it carries with it also the admonition to obedience.

“Do you hear me?” we might say to a child who ignores our instruction. Of course she hears us; but she is not obeying. Hearing requires obedience, or it is not hearing at all.

“Hear, O Israel,” Moses says. This involves the affirmation that they serve a single God who is different than all the gods around them, and that this reality requires a life of obedience that encompasses the entire self: “heart, soul and might.”

The second critical verb is “Love,” which speaks to the motivation behind their obedience. To hear is to obey; to obey is to love; to love is to listen/hear. All of these are tied together in the book of Deuteronomy.

When I was in high school, I did a study on love in the Bible. I was astounded to discover that Deuteronomy has the fifth most occurrences of love in the entire Old Testament.

That a book filled with laws would talk so much about love was incredible to me. Now that I am older and wiser, I do not find it incredible at all. By its nature, love seeks to please the object of its love.

If you do not seek to please the one you love, you do not love that person.
If you do not desire to hear what pleases another person, you do not love that person.

Without love, obedience is a duty, an obligation, and a threat to thwart. 
With love, obedience is a joy, a delight, and a privilege to pursue.

Like the people of Israel on the cusp of the Promised Land, we who follow Jesus are called to live like God’s new humanity in the context of a culture filled with many competing gods. It is a daunting task. But if we are willing to hear God’s Word, with hearts filled with love and gratitude, we will find obedience to be a joy, a delight, and a privilege.


Join us tomorrow morning for Breakfast at the Chip following our 9:00 worship gathering. As we do each week, we will spend an hour together learning what it means to love God with our heart, soul, mind and strength. Then we get to have breakfast together as a family. What could be better than that!


If you’d like to learn more about Deuteronomy, you’re invited to our home on Tuesday evening (8/6) from 6:30 to 8:00 p.m., as we explore the whole book in a study I call, “Old Deuteronomy.” If you’re coming, please send me an email so that I can make enough handouts. (For those of you doing the Community Bible Project, this is especially for you as you begin to read Deuteronomy.)