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What is Deuteronomy? Part 2

The name “Deuteronomy” is technically a bit of a misnomer.  The word comes from the Greek name originally given to the book.  “Deuter” – means ‘second.’  “Nomy” means ‘law.’  So, ‘second law.’  But as we went over last time (Part 1), the focus of Deuteronomy isn’t so much law as it is instruction and teaching.  Because the Torah that Moses is giving to the people isn’t about God being some kind of a cosmic kill-joy.  It is about giving life and setting His people apart for the blessing of the world.


Also, Deuteronomy isn’t a second law.  Some people have wondered if the ‘second’ label comes from this book being some kind of ‘second’ giving of the law -- maybe because the 10 Commandments appear for the second time in Deut 5 (the first being in Exodus 20).  Another option is the reference to a copy of the law that is mentioned in Deut 17:18.  Regardless, Deuteronomy is certainly not a second nor a different law.  The teachings in Deuteronomy fit into the system of living that has already been given to the Israelites in Exodus, Leviticus and Numbers.Granted, there are differences, but they do fit together (for example, look at the rationale for Sabbath in the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20 versus the Ten Commandments in Deut 5; they’re different, but if you think through it, the thought behind each appears to be the same).  It’s our job to examine how these things fit together and ask questions like “What does it say?  How does it say it?  Why does it say it this way?  What’s the significance (or, more simply, “so what”)?”  But we’ll return to those questions once we start into the text of the book itself.


So if Deuteronomy isn’t a “second law,” what is it?  Generally, Deuteronomy is often identified as a “covenant document.”  There are pro’s and con’s to that type of label.  In the Ancient Near East 3,000 to 4,000 years ago, when two kings would make an agreement with each other, it was considered a treaty or covenant.  The document that discussed the in’s and out’s of that treaty/covenant had certain characteristics (we can go in to those if someone is interested, but I’ll skip them for now).  Deuteronomy has a lot of those same elements.  Not exact matches, mind you, but there are definitely some similarities.  So, is Deuteronomy a covenant document?  Yes, in that it shares a lot of characteristics with the covenant documents of the day.


But in other respects, Deuteronomy is not a covenant document.  The Ten Commandments are essentially the covenant document between the Creator God and the people He rescued and ransomed from Egypt.  The Ten Commandments were written in stone (like ANE documents of the day) and then put into a safe place (the Ark of the Covenant).  So, the Ten Commandments are the covenant document proper.  Deuteronomy then is an exposition, an explanation of sorts, of those Ten Commandments.  An outworking of them maybe.  The Ten Commandments were originally given to a people who would end up sinning against their Lord in terrible, terrible ways (the golden calf episode in Exodus 32 being the primary example).  The people complained and sinned and were banished to wilderness wanderings.  That generation of Israel lost out on the land that had been promised for them.


Deuteronomy details the renewal of the covenant between God and the people of Israel, albeit, the next generation of Israel.  That’s why we see so much emphasis on history in the early part of the book and then renewal and ceremony in the later chapters of the book.  And why the blessings and curses are retold.  Deuteronomy is God communicating through Moses, a pastoral prophet, to a people who are to commit to loving God in word and deed.  These people have seen their parents majorly mess up.  It is the new generation’s turn to take the land and be the people that God intended.  It will only be through God’s help (Deut 30) that Israel shows themselves as God’s holy people.


And so it is with us.