As we continue in this series on the book of Deuteronomy, continuing from the previous post in this series, we move into the foundational matters of the law. The prior reflection on the history of the nation was needed to prepare this new generation to engage in the work to come as they were about to drive out the nations before them who had filled the land with bloodshed and wickedness.
Scripture and Summary
The introduction that is set is one of “statutes and rules (ESV)” or “statutes and judgments (NKJV)”. This is an instance where the latter translation conveys the greater meaning. Even the NIV rendering is somewhat difficult (“decrees and laws”). This is the key to understanding rest of the book and the message that it is attempting to convey; so to telegraph what is coming, without giving too much away, it would be best to say that what is being referred to is juris prudence.
This is a warning not to exceed what has been both prescribed in the law. There is a terrible human tendency to either tighten or loosen the standard, to either embrace authoritarianism or licentiousness. Israel was given strict boundaries to which they were to adhere. The law was to be applied conscientiously with equanimity.
A reminder of one of the most recent events in their history where loyalty meant life and disobedience meant death. The incident with the Baal of Peor stands as a tragedy not seen since the incident with the Golden Calf and seems to be the bookend to the exodus story.
Moses encourages the people to adhere to the law, to be loyal to Yahweh, so that other nations will want what they have. The admonition is to be the standard of other nations. Again the phrase “statutes and rules (ESV)” appears and it is stated that they are to be the “wisdom and understanding (ESV)” of the people, which are credited with divine origin. While there is similarity in the laws and what is being dealt with, Israel’s laws are considered “righteous” because of their source.
An admonition to diligently prepare the next generation is found in these verses. Often, the struggles of one generation leads to apathy in the next. A generation that builds for the successive generation is often forgotten and everything that was worked for is dismantled. This is cast in light of the easiness with which the nation found itself in bed (both literally and figuratively) with Baal of Peor. The next generation has to be careful tended in order to cultivate their loyalties. This is set up with a mention of the Decalogue and a reminder of what was seen and not seen at Sinai.
Several mistakes are often made when reading the law, but two are common.
The first is the assumption of exhaustion. The law did not cover every single instance in regards to human relationships. It serves as a representative, historical sample of the legal code. Like so many of the other biblical texts demonstrate, there was often only a summary of the available content. While we we get into the law more as the study progresses, what must be kept in mind is that Deuteronomy a survey and not an exhaustive analysis.
The second is that of misunderstanding. Deuteronomy exists as something of an application manual. Putting forward how to apply what is set forth in the principles of the nation. It’s an explication of principles in law as a covenant. So often the law is seen apart from Ten Commandments rather than an application of them. We get to see justice from God’s perspective in light of his commands to his creatures and we also get to know him. Something that we will look at in the next post in the series.