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What is Deuteronomy? Part 1

I would venture a guess that people generally don’t first turn to Deuteronomy when they read the Bible.  Admittedly, Deuteronomy’s a little different.  It’s got some strange commands (Deuteronomy 14:21 anyone?).  It’s not as straightforward as certain New Testament passages (Ephesians 4:32).  But Deuteronomy is not simply a set of ancient laws that we somehow have to move forward thousands of years into modern life.  Quite the opposite.  Deuteronomy is Torah.  And in Torah is life.  Because of the One who has given it...

Deuteronomy 4:1, 6-8 – (1) And now, O Israel, listen to the statutes and the rules that I am teaching you, and do them, that you may live, and go in and take possession of the land that the LORD, the God of your fathers, is giving you. … (6) Keep them and do them, for that will be your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples, who, when they hear all these statutes, will say, 'Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.'  (7) For what great nation is there that has a god so near to it as the LORD our God is to us, whenever we call upon him?  (8) And what great nation is there, that has statutes and rules so righteous as all this law that I set before you today?  (ESV, but I’ve added the bold-italics.  The ESV will be used as the default Bible version unless otherwise noted)

What is Torah?  The word torah in Hebrew is often translated ‘law.’  The first instance in Deuteronomy is in 1:5 – “Beyond the Jordan, in the land of Moab, Moses undertook to explain this law (torah), saying”.  “Law” isn’t a bad translation.  But it is perhaps incomplete.   Torah is more than a law.  The word ‘law’ brings to mind things like a justice system and judges and rules and consequences.  Deuteronomy certainly has those things.  But there is more to torah than rules.  Torah also means “instruction or direction.”  It is the thing that students receive from teachers, or that which children receive from their parents (see Proverbs 3:1; 4:1; 6:23; 13:14).  It’s not a law that children can't touch a hot stove, but children would do well to heed the instruction of their parents on such matters.  That’s an over-simplified example maybe, but I think you get my point.

God (through Moses) gives Torah to the people so that they will live (Deut 4:1).  Deut 4:6 notes that wisdom and understanding are in all of these rules.  So much so that Torah will impress the nations and draw people to the LORD God.  There is nothing “so righteous as this law (torah)” (4:8).

Now, you might ask (rightly so), does this Torah only apply to Israel?  Deut 4:1 above is specifically addressed to Israel.  How does this apply to the Christian church, specifically those of Glenwood Community Church in Vancouver, WA in 2011 and soon-to-be 2012?