Deuteronomy – A Constitution for Israel
by John C. Westervelt
After forty years of wandering in the wilderness between Egypt and Israel, the Jews finally reached Moab on the eastern side of the Dead Sea. Moses knew that he would not be permitted to enter the Promised Land on the west side of the Dead Sea and Jordan River, so he began a series of addresses to document the laws that God had given him for the Hebrew people. This group of laws recorded in Deuteronomy would serve as the constitution of the new nation Israel.
Moses reminded the people that God had made a covenant with them forty years earlier at Mount Horeb. Included in the laws given to Moses by God were the Ten Commandments. In the 21st century, this body of law, now 3,400 years old, still applies to all people. Moses told the Israelites to think constantly about the law, to teach it to their children, and to talk about it at bedtime and first thing in the morning. This may be the reason why the New Testament writers were so familiar with the writings of the Old Testament.
As a child of God, I struggle not to be a jealous man. I wondered why Deuteronomy states that God is a jealous God. Then I realized that his jealousy is for our benefit, for He knows what happens to our souls when our love for other gods and things are more important than our love for Him.
The Deuteronomy law records that God punishes the children for the sin of their fathers to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Him. At first glance this seems a little harsh, but not after I consider how much God hates sin. A parallel promise to this law is that God shows His love to a thousand generations of those who love Him and keep His commandments. It is possible that a Gentile of Jew who listened to Paul’s preaching and came to know God’s love through Jesus is in your family lineage, because a thousand generations would more than span the time between you and that first generation Christian.
A Deuteronomy law tells the people to tithe all their crops. A clarifying sentence states that the purpose of tithing is to teach us always to put God first in our lives. Moses caught the spirit of giving with the words – “give as you are able, according as the Lord has blessed you.”
Moses told the people not to be afraid of the nations that they would supplant in the Promised Land. Moses’ justification for their assumed fearlessness was “for the Lord your God, who is among you, is a great and awesome God.” Awesome is the favorite adjective of today’s youth and children. “An Awesome God” is a natural for the lyrics of a song.
Jesus quoted from Deuteronomy, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul,” and Jesus added, “with all your mind.” Jesus also added, “And the second is like it. Love your neighbor as yourself. All the law and the prophets hang on these two commandments.” When I am a little overwhelmed by the many laws of Deuteronomy, I begin with the part that Jesus quoted. I attempt to let Jesus’ instructions govern my interaction with others as I go about my daily activities. I ask Jesus to filter my thoughts throughout the day, by continually reminding me to tell God how much I love Him.
Copyright 2001 by John C. Westervelt
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