Applies the message of Deuteronomy to Christians today, showing that obedience is a response of love to God who first loved us.
About the Author
Ajith Fernando (ThM, Fuller Theological Seminary) is the teaching director of Youth for Christ in Sri Lanka after serving as the ministry's national director for thirty-five years. He and his wife, Nelun, are active in a church ministering primarily to the urban poor, and his ministry includes counseling and mentoring younger staff and pastors. He is the author of seventeen books published in twenty languages. Ajith lives in Colombo, Sri Lanka, with his wife, and they have two adult children and four grandchildren.
R. Kent Hughes (DMin, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School) is senior pastor emeritus of College Church in Wheaton, Illinois, and former professor of practical theology at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Hughes is also a founder of the Charles Simeon Trust, which conducts expository preaching conferences throughout North America and worldwide. He serves as the series editor for the Preaching the Word commentary series and is the author or coauthor of many books. He and his wife, Barbara, live in Wyncote, Pennsylvania, and have four children and an ever-increasing number of grandchildren.
Read an Excerpt
Deuteronomy: Highly Relevant History
DEUTERONOMY 1:1–3, 5
THE BOOK OF DEUTERONOMY consists primarily of speeches that Moses gave to the Israelites shortly before he handed over the leadership to Joshua. They aim to prepare the people to conquer Canaan and live faithful lives in their new land. The speeches give some strong teaching that would be somewhat unpopular today. Our natural tendency would be to dismiss this teaching as not being relevant to our lives. However, this book claims to contain the very thoughts of God. Deuteronomy 1:3 says, "Moses spoke to the people of Israel according to all that the LORD had given him in commandment to them." If these are indeed God's words, we are forced to take them seriously. Therefore, I will give a brief defense of the historical reliability of this book. This study is more technical than the others in this book.
The Name Deuteronomy
The Israelites usually used the first two words in the Hebrew text of Deuteronomy, "elleh haddebarim," meaning "these are the words," as their title for the book. Sometimes they simply used the shortened form debarim ("words"). The name that has become popular in English comes from a translation of Deuteronomy 17:18 in the Septuagint, the most important ancient Greek translation of the Old Testament, usually abbreviated as LXX. Here Moses is asked to make "a copy of this law," and the LXX translated that as "second law" or "repetition of the law." The Latin Vulgate version of the Bible, which was completed by Jerome in AD 405, titled the book Deuteronomium meaning "second law." And that is from where we get our English title.
This strange history of the name should not trouble devout Bible students too much, as the claims we make for the Scriptures are for the text of the Bible, not the titles. Besides, the title is not entirely inappropriate because it is a second version of the one law given at Sinai and originally recorded in Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers and because it is structured along the lines of the renewing of the covenant that was originally done at Sinai.
Are These Really the Words of Moses? (1:1)
Deuteronomy begins with the statement, "These are the words that Moses spoke to all Israel beyond the Jordan in the wilderness ..." (1:1a). In other places too, the book often claims to have a record of the words of Moses (1:5; 31:30). There are references to Moses writing parts of it (31:9, 22, 24). "Other OT books similarly assert Mosaic authorship of Deuteronomy (1 Kings 2:3; 8:53; 2 Kings 14:6; 18:6, 12), as do Jesus and others in the NT." Over the past 200 years or so there has been a strong (but misguided) challenge to the claim that Moses is the main person behind Deuteronomy.
Verse 1 uses the expression "beyond the Jordan" to describe the place from which Moses spoke the words of Deuteronomy. This expression came into use only after the Jordan was crossed, that is, after Moses had died. This points to the hand of an editor in the composition of Deuteronomy. Chapter 34 records the death of Moses, which again is from the hand of someone else. Sometimes there are explanatory notes added to the words of Moses that seem to come from an editor (e.g., 2:10–12, 20–23; 3:11, 13b–14). In this book we will view Deuteronomy as essentially coming from Moses though it contains several editorial touches by others. That is, we believe that Moses really did say what Deuteronomy says he said.
From the beginning of the nineteenth century there was among Biblical scholars a growing acceptance of "higher critical" approaches to the study of Scripture. Along with this came the view that Deuteronomy came from the time of the righteous king Josiah. Some asked whether Deuteronomy was "the book of the Law" that was found around 621 BC during the reign of Josiah, as recorded in 2 Kings 22:8. Some even said that Deuteronomy was a "pious fraud"; that is, that someone had placed the book in the temple so that it would be "found" accidentally. Many said that the writing of Deuteronomy was part of the seventh-century reforms under Josiah.
Josiah clearly seems to have been acting under the influence of the teaching found in Deuteronomy. What is controversial is the claim that Deuteronomy was written in the time of Josiah. Those who hold this view say that Deuteronomy has a tone like that of the prophets and even opens like the prophetic books that were written during the time of the kings (Isaiah 1:1; Amos 1:1; etc.). In answer we would ask, could not the prophets have been influenced by Deuteronomy rather than vice versa? After all, the influence of Deuteronomy is found in many other sections of the Bible too, including the New Testament. We contend that Josiah and the prophets were influenced by Deuteronomy, which is a much earlier document. After all, the book does claim to contain the words of Moses.
Gordon McConville has given several arguments in support of the view that Deuteronomy came from a time much closer to the time of Moses than claimed by the critics. "First, Deuteronomy shows no knowledge of the main institutions of Israel's political and religious life during the period of the kings, namely the kings themselves and the Jerusalem temple." McConville further points out that Deuteronomy is also unenthusiastic about the idea of a king (17:14–20), merely permitting such a thing, and trying to ensure that the king would not become a tyrant. This law is unlikely to have come from the time of Josiah.
"Secondly," McConville says, "Deuteronomy knows only a single, united Israel, and shows no acquaintance with the division of the nation into two kingdoms following the reign of Solomon, around 930 BC (1 Kings 12)."
"Thirdly, the book warns again and again about the dangers of Canaanite religion (e.g. chs. 7, 13)." While this remained a problem until the time of the exile, it was a seriously urgent problem immediately after setting foot in the promised land. And Deuteronomy claims to contain material that prepares the people for their life after they enter the promised land.
"Fourthly, certain laws make best sense in relation to imminent (or recent) occupation of the land." According to Leviticus 17, all slaughter of animals was to be sacrificial and carried out in the tent of meeting, which is where the Israelites worshipped and sacrificed until the temple was built. After settling in the land it would have been too difficult for the people to travel to the tent of meeting every time they wanted to consume meat. Therefore, Deuteronomy permits the secular eating of meat also (12:15–25), indicating that it is talking about a new situation to be faced by the people.
"Fifthly, Deuteronomy shares the concerns of the prophets, namely, the need for heartfelt religion, and a love of justice and the rights of the poor (14:28–29). Yet," says McConville, "it is different from the prophetic books in the sense that it does not address particular occasions and individuals. It has much more the appearance of a programme for the future." McConville says that it is likely "that the prophets take their cue from Deuteronomy, as well as from other parts of the Pentateuch."
McConville's last point is that "it has been shown that Deuteronomy formally resembles certain political treaties made by Hittite kings with weaker states, as well as certain ancient law-codes, such as that of the famous Babylonian king and lawgiver, Hammurabi." Of the eighty or ninety documents of law codes that have been found by archaeologists, Deuteronomy resembles the Hittite treaties from 1400 to 1200 BC, which according to more conservative scholars is the time that Moses lived.
Kenneth A. Kitchen, an esteemed expert in ancient Near Eastern studies from the University of Liverpool, has recently written a 662-page book, On the Reliability of the Old Testament, in which he painstakingly presents evidence for the historical reliability of the Old Testament. In his discussion of the Sinai covenant (of which Deuteronomy is a record), he shows how a comparison of the Sinai treaty, as described in the Pentateuch, with ancient Near Eastern treaties gives strong evidence for a dating of the records of the Sinai covenant in the era when Moses is said to have lived. He divides the history of treaties, laws, and covenants into six phases covering 2,000 years. He says, "It is vitally important to understand that the documents of each phase are sharply different in format and full content from those in the phases before and after them. There is no ambiguity."
Kitchen's observations cause him to place Deuteronomy and other records of the Sinai covenant squarely within the fifth phase, which includes the Hittite treaties. This phase covers roughly 1400 to 1200 BC He shows how there is a "glaring contrast" between the Hittite and Sinai treaties on the one hand and the treaties of phase VI which covers roughly 900 to 650 BC and includes Assyrian treaties. His conclusion is:
The impartial and very extensive evidence (thirty Hittite inspired documents and versions!) sets this matter beyond any further dispute. It is not my creation, it is inherent in the mass of original documents themselves, and cannot be gainsaid, if the brute facts are to be respected.
The six arguments given above give us confidence to say that the contents of Deuteronomy can be traced to the time of Moses. This is very important in determining our approach to Deuteronomy. Some scholars think it is not important. Recently there has been a return in Biblical studies to studying Biblical books as a whole in the way they are found in the Bible — that is, in their canonical form — without chopping the books up according to the various sources from which different parts of a book are said to have been derived. This chopping up was done a lot in the twentieth century in the heyday of what was known as form criticism. The canonical approach (called canon criticism) is being advocated even by those who would not call themselves evangelical Christians. They study a book as a whole to see what it teaches. This has been a welcome trend, and it has produced some outstanding and helpful studies of Biblical texts.
However, some (not all) people advocating this canonical approach would say that it does not matter if the words attributed to Moses were not said by Moses himself. They say that what we need to learn is the teaching of the book without bothering with historical details. I find that approach unsatisfactory. If Deuteronomy contains God's clear teaching to his people, and if it is inspired so as to become a definite infallible source of authority for our belief and practice, shouldn't we expect its basic historical premise — that these are indeed Moses' words — to be true? After all, it claims to contain the speeches that Moses gave to the Israelites and claims that God is the one who is behind those speeches (1:3)! If the claims it makes for itself are inaccurate, I do not think we could come to the book as being a bearer of ultimate and trustworthy teaching that will have an exclusive and authoritative claim on our thinking and behavior.
The Scriptures contain many radical teachings that run contrary to popular thinking, and embracing those teachings is not easy today. In this environment I cannot see how the Bible could become our reliable and ultimate source of authority for faith and practice if we do not accept some of the things it claims for itself. We could drop things that we don't like by claiming that those statements are not historically reliable and that they do not reflect the mind of God. This is what many have done with radical statements of Christ that present him as divine and absolute Lord. These claims go against the pluralist mood of the present day, and they are rejected on the grounds that they come from a period much later than Jesus and therefore should not be attributed to him. I believe it is not necessary for us to jettison statements in the Bible because of a suspicion that they are not historically accurate. A strong case has been made by several writers in recent years for the historical reliability of both the Old and the New Testaments.
Today people who call themselves Christians are discarding some teachings of the Bible and accepting lifestyles that are contrary to these teachings. For example, homosexual practice, which is explicitly prohibited in Leviticus 18:22; 20:13, is accepted as a legitimate alternate lifestyle by some who call themselves Christians. If we really believed that God gave those commands to Moses, we would be more cautious about discarding them. Deuteronomy clearly teaches that sex belongs within marriage (22:13–29) and that adultery is prohibited (5:18). But adultery is publicly and shamelessly flouted by famous people and reported in the news media as something quite normal. Sadly, the statistics seem to show that the incidence of extramarital sex is quite high among those who call themselves Christians. If Christians understood that God himself gave those prohibitions to Moses, they would be much more reluctant to violate them. And that is the claim that Deuteronomy makes. Deuteronomy 1:3 says, "Moses spoke to the people of Israel according to all that the LORD had given him in commandment to them."
Deuteronomy and Hittite Treaties
Moses' aim in his final speeches is to ensure that the people will remain faithful to God. He reminds them that they are a people under a covenant with God. It probably is not accidental then that the book takes a form somewhat similar to the covenants made by people at that time. We should be cautious about attaching too much significance to the similarities between Deuteronomy and the ancient Hittite treaties that have been discovered. However, the two listings below show the parallels between the parts of a Hittite treaty and the contents of Deuteronomy. Deuteronomy, of course, is not a political treaty like the Hittite treaties but a document describing the covenant between God and his people.
Scholars differ about the precise ways in which the parts of a Hittite treaty should be described. We know for sure that the treaties in Moses' time generally had the six parts (see the column on the left in the chart below). The right column shows Deuteronomy structured according to a pattern that shows remarkable similarities to the Hittite treaties.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Deuteronomy"
Copyright © 2012 Ajith Fernando.
Excerpted by permission of Good News Publishers.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Frequently Used Reference Materials 13
A Word to Those Who Preach the Word 19
Preface: Why I Am Excited about Deuteronomy 21
1 Deuteronomy: Highly Relevant History (1:1-3, 5) 25
2 Keys to Launching out into Fresh Exploits (1:4-8) 37
3 Leadership and Growth (1:9-15) 45
4 Basic Training for Judges (1:16-18) 55
5 Faith versus Fear (1:19-33) 63
6 The Seriousness of God's Severity (1:34-46) 75
7 Provision in the Wilderness (2:1-23) 85
8 Doing Battle with God's Help (2:24-3:11) 93
9 Preparing a Community to Live Harmoniously (3:12-29) 103
10 Nurturing People Who Cling to God and His Word (4:1-14) 115
11 How to Prevent Idolatry (4:15-28) 127
12 Returning to God after Disobedience (4:29-31) 139
13 Believing and Obeying the Bible (4:32-43) 147
14 How to Think about the Law (4:44-5:6) 155
15 Exclusive Loyalty to God (5:7-10) 165
16 Honoring God's Name (5:11) 175
17 Sabbath-Keeping (5:12-15) 185
18 Honoring Parents (5:16) 195
19 The Sanctity of Life (5:17) 207
20 The Sanctity of Marriage (5:18) 215
21 Respect for Property and Truth (5:19, 20) 225
22 Covetousness versus Contentment (5:21) 235
23 A Conversation between God, Moses, and the People (5:22-33) 243
24 How Fear and Love Can Make Us Holy (6:1-5) 253
25 How the Word Can Make Us Holy (6:6-9) 263
26 How to Avoid the Pitfalls of Prosperity (6:10-25) 273
27 Show Them No Mercy (7:1-26) 285
28 How Not to Forget God (8:1-20) 297
29 God Wins in Spite of Us (9:1-8) 307
30 A Rebellious People and a Praying Leader (9:9-24) 315
31 Powerful Prayer (9:25-10:11) 327
32 A Vision of God Fosters Heart Religion (10:12-22) 339
33 Seven Motivations to Obedience (11:1-32) 351
34 Worshipping God's Way (12:1-32) 365
35 Encountering Occult Power (13:1-18) 377
36 We Will Be Different from Others (14:1-21) 387
37 Giving to God (14:22-29; 15:19-23) 397
38 Special Consideration for the Poor (15:1-18) 407
39 Pilgrimage Festivals (16:1-17) 421
40 Principles of Leadership and Justice (16:18-17:13) 435
41 How to Be a Good King (17:14-20) 447
42 Priests and Prophets: The Good, the Bad, the Best, and the False (18:1-22) 457
43 Legal Protection for the Vulnerable (19:1-21) 471
44 Rules for Warfare (20:1-20) 483
45 Respect for Life and Land (21:1-23) 495
46 Rules for an Orderly and Healthy Society (22:1-12) 505
47 Upholding the High Value of Sex (22:13-30) 513
48 Rules for a Holy Society (23:1-14) 523
49 Rules for a Considerate Society (23:15-25; 24:19-22) 533
50 Generous Justice (24:1-22) 543
51 Concern for Humans and Animals and Honesty (25:1-19) 555
52 The Heart of a Biblical Giver (26:1-19) 565
53 Acts That Help Refresh Commitment (27:1-10) 575
54 Can We Curse People Today? (27:11-26) 583
55 Kinds of Blessings and Curses (28:1-68) 591
56 Keys to Renewal (29:1-29) 601
57 The Path of Repentance (30:1-20) 615
58 How to Handle Leadership Succession (31:1-29) 629
59 Moses' Song I: Scandalous Disobedience (31:30-32:18) 645
60 Moses' Song II: Judgment and Restoration (32:19-47) 659
61 The Art of Blessing People (32:48-33:25) 671
62 Moses' Last Outburst of Praise (33:26-29) 685
63 The Death of a Great Leader (34:1-12) 693
Scripture Index 733
General Index 752
Index of Sermon Illustrations 761
What People are Saying About This
“Out of his broad experience of expounding the Scriptures, Dr. Fernando has given us a commentary that will appeal to all those who preach the Word. The work breathes a love for God, a deep understanding of Biblical theology, and a warmly poignant grasp of human naturewith its failings and its potentials. His applications of Deuteronomy’s teaching are both perceptive and relevant. While showing an awareness of scholarly treatments, the work is very accessible to those who do not have scholarly training. It is highly recommended.”
John Oswalt, author, Called to Be Holy and The NIV Application Commentary: Isaiah
“Vintage Fernando. Like all of his preaching, this book is a model of the wonderful gift that God has given to Ajith Fernando for simple, clear, and challenging exposition of the Word of God. Without evading the more difficult questions and problems that scholars have wrestled with in the book of Deuteronomy, he does not allow them to dominate but stays close to the thrust of the text, patiently explaining and applying it step by step. The rich infusion of illustrations that are mostly drawn from the challenges and stresses, joys and sorrows of his own experience in ministry add a wonderful earthy texture to the whole book as we constantly weave between the Biblical world and today’s world in a way that listens to and engages with both. This book is a deep well of Biblical study, ethical challenge, practical advice, pastoral wisdom, and spiritual warmth. It breathes love for God, God’s Word, God’s world, and God’s people.”
Christopher J. H. Wright, International Ministries Director, Langham Partnership