To bring out this significance regard must be had to the character of this book. The character of the book has been variously defined. It has been described as an attempt “to furnish a new law which might be conducive to the interests of altered circumstances,” by another as, hortatory description, explanation and enforcement of the most essential contents of the covenant relations and covenant laws with emphatic prominence given to the spiritual principle of the law and its fulfillment. Lange comments on the purpose of the book as follows: “Deuteronomy. . . . the second law. But Deuteronomy is not therefore a repetition in the sense of a transcript. That would be a mere copy. . . .which the second tables of the law were, which Moses must hue, written truly by God Himself, as were the first but in other respects the work of Moses, while the first were entirely the work of God. According to another interpreter the aim of the book is, “to secure by supplementary regulations that the laws and institutions of the previous books, whose full validity is presupposed, shall be observed, not only in an external way, but as to their inner significance, their higher aim, their spiritual principle.” Then there are those who define the book as the people’s code and regard this as its distinguishing mark.
An examination of the book leads to the following discoveries.
1. In the middle books of the Pentateuch (Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers) God speaks to Moses and Moses as God’s prophet to Aaron and his sons. Conspicuous in these books are statements such as these: “And the Lord said unto Moses, saying, Speak unto the children of Israel. . . . And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying. . . . And the Lord said unto Moses. . . , And the Lord called unto Moses and spake unto him out of the tabernacle of the congregation, saying. . . .” Fact is that in these middle books God appears almost exclusively as the sole speaker and Moses as the hearer; rarely is Moses here brought forward as speaking to the people or to the priests. After recording the Lord’s communications to Moses of the instructions regarding the building of the tabernacle, the writer simply asserts: “Thus did Moses according to all that the Lord commanded him, so did he.”.
Coming to the book of Deuteronomy we find that here Moses as God’s prophet is the sole speaker and he speaks in lengthy discourses not to a few priests but to all the people. The book sets out with the announcement, “These be the words which Moses spoke unto all Israel on this side Jordan in the wilderness.” Every distinct discourse in the book is headed by a similar statement: “And Moses called all Israel together and said unto them, Hear, O Israel. . . .” (5:1). “Now these are the commandments, the statutes and the judgments, which the Lord your God commanded to teach you. . . .” (6:1). “And Moses with the elders of the people commanded Israel saying. . . .” (27:1). “And Moses went and spake all these words unto the people. And he said unto them. . . .” (31:1, 2).
2. A second characteristic of the book concerns its .style. The mode of expression in the middle books is that of a speaker communicating bare facts. The style of Deuteronomy, on the other hand, is horatory. The speaker of the discourses found here makes his appeal to the will, recommends, approves, urges, threatens and promises, as one swayed by a powerful emotion. And what is laid upon the hearts of the hearers is the law (ceremonial, civil, and moral) of Jehovah. What is stressed throughout is that the law be loved and obeyed, that the people may live and not be destroyed by the anger of God. This is the strain sustained throughout the whole book. It continues to gain in loftiness until it finally ends in a prophetic outburst revealing that the vantage point to which Moses is finally raised is of such height that it allows him to see the course of God’s doings with His people to the end of time. An examination of these discourses bears out this statement. The substance of the first address (1-4) is that the people of Israel hearken to the statutes and the judgments “which I teach you for to do them; for this is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the nations, which shall hear all these statutes and say, Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people. For what nation is there so great, who hath God so nigh unto them, as the Lord God is in all things that we call upon Him for? And what nation is there so great, that hath statutes and judgments so righteous as all this law, which I set before you this day? Only take heed to thyself and keep them diligently, lest thou forget the things which thy eyes have seen, and lest they depart from thy heart all the days of thy life; but teach them to thy sons and to thy sons’ sons. . . .” And the basis
on which the rendering of this obedience is made to rest is that the covenant promise will be realized, that thus Jehovah will cause His people to inherit the land. And the certainty of this is the greatness which Jehovah already has begun to show them by His giving into their hands the enemies thus far vanquished. Let them therefore now hearken to the Lord’s statutes to do them, that they may live, and go in and possess the land which the Lord God of your fathers giveth you. For only on condition that they keep the covenant will they receive the promise. Let them be mindful of this. Let them recall their fathers who murmured in their tents, and said, “Because the Lord hated us hath he brought us forth out of the land of Egypt, to deliver us into the hands of the Amorites to destroy us,” and concerning who the Lord therefore sware saying, Surely there shall not one of these men of this evil generation see that good land, which I sware to give eunto your fathers.” Let them consider further what their eyes have seen, to wit, “what the Lord did because of Baal-peor, the Lord thy God hath destroyed them from among you. But ye that did cleave unto the Lord thy God are alive every one of you this day.” ().
The second discourse begins with chapter 5 and continues through chapter 26. Though the materials contained in this section may have been spoken in a succession of days, fact is that they form a distinct whole. For this section sets out with the announcement “And Moses called all Israel together and said unto them, Hear O Israel the statutes and judgments which I speak in your ears this day.” The style also of this discourse is hortatory and its purpose is to bind upon the hearts of the people that they must be loyal to the Lord their God. There is again the exhortation, “Hear O Israel the statutes and judgments which I speak in your ears this day, that you may learn them and keep them and do them.” Rehearsing the events at Mt. Sinai—the giving of the law of the ten commandments, and the fear of the people by reason of the fire, and reciting to them the law, Moses concludes with saying what he has once and again already said, “Ye shall observe to do therefore, as the Lord your God hath commanded you, that ye may live and that it may be well with you, and that ye may prolong your days in the land which ye shall possess.”
In chapters 6 to 12, the people are told that the end of the law is obedience and therefore exhorted to hear and to observe to do it, to love the Lord their God with all their heart, to teach His words to their children, and to write them upon the posts of their houses and upon their gates. They shall beware lest they forget the Lord, which brought them forth out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage, when He will have brought them in the promised land of their abode and have filled their houses with all good. They shall fear the Lord and sware by His name and shall not go after others gods. They shall not tempt the Lord as they tempted Him at Massah. They shall do that which is right and good, to cast out all their enemies before them, as the Lord hath spoken. They shall surely smite the nations inhabiting the promised land. They shall make no marriages with them. Instead, they shall cleanse the promised land from all defilement of their abominable idolatry. For they are a holy people unto the Lord. They shall know that the Lord keepeth covenant and mercy with them that love Him; and repayeth them that hate Him to their face to destroy them. . . .If they hearken unto these judgments they shall be blessed above all people, They are exhorted to obedience with regard to the Lord’s gracious dealings with them in the past. They are warned lest, after the Lord shall have destroyed their enemies and brought them in to possess the land, they glory in themselves, in their own righteousness instead of in the land. Let them understand that the Lord giveth them not this land for their righteousness; for they are a stiff-necked people. This he shows them by rehearsing their several rebellions. Now their minds are directed to God’s mercy of the past in renewing with them the covenant at Sinai, the covenant that they had broken, through His restoring the two tables, and hearkening to Moses’ prayer for them. What now does the Lord require of them but to fear Him, to walk in all His ways, and to love Him and to serve Him with all their heart and soul. The Lord is their praise. He has done for them these great and terrible things which their eyes have seen, And now He has made them as the stars of heaven for multitude. Therefore they shall love the Lord their God. Their eyes have seen all the great acts of the Lord which He did. Let them therefore keep all His commandments. If they do so, He will prosper them in the land of Canaan. If they forsake the Lord, His wrath will be kindled against them, and He will shut up the heaven that there be no rain. Blessing and curse is set before them; blessing for them if they obey, but curse if they obey not.
The content of chapters 12-26 is formed of statutes and judgments communicated by Moses to the people. In these chapters the exhortations “fear the Lord” followed by promises and threats is wanting.
Chap 27:1-8 is the transition to the last and third discourse which continues through chap. 31. It contains blessings and cursing and the renewal of the covenant. Chapters 32-34 are supplements to the book. In them is found the Song and Blessing of Moses and a narration of his death.
It is these exhortation from which our book derives in part its significance. The entire collection is summed up in the first and greatest commandment, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart and mind and will and strength. This command is contained only in the fifth book of Moses, at 6:4 and 10:12. And although it is not expressly stated, yet it is certainly implied that without love in the heart, the people’s sacrificing is vain, that thus, obedience is better than sacrifice.
Thus, the great emphasis which our book places upon the religion of the heart—loving God above all—is the complaint of Isaiah, “To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices unto me; saith the Lord, I am full of the burnt-offerings of rams and the fat of fed beasts. . . .your hands are full of blood. Wash you, make you clean; put away the evil of your doings. . . .” (scq.). But the carnal Israel according to the reprobation did not. Yet it continued to bring a multitude of sacrifices unto the Lord: burnt offerings of rams, the fat of fed beasts, the blood of bullocks, lambs, and he goats. It appeared before the Lord and tread His courts, brought oblations, burnt incense, kept the new moons and the Sabbaths, called assemblies and solemn meetings, observed new moons and the appointed feasts, spread forth its hands and made many prayers ( ), compassed sea and land to make one proselyte, swore by the altar, payed tithes of mint and anise and cumin, strained at a gnat, builded the tombs of the prophets, and garnished the sepulchers of the righteous. This outward conformity to the law of God gave to Israel the aspect of a fruit-bearing Fig tree. So the Lord God came and sought fruit thereon. Rut He found none. Instead of faith He found unbelief; instead of humbleness, pride; instead of love hatred; instead of mercy, cruelty; instead of contrition, hardness of heart; instead of a pure heart, a heart full of uncleanness, extortions and excesses. The appearance of the tree belied its nature. Despite all this outward show of piety, it lacked the true religion of the heart. For three years Christ labored with this tree, exhorting it to repent, calling it to the service of God, performing many miracles before the eye of Israel and thus providing them with the proof that He, the Christ, came from God. But they despised and rejected Him and crucified Him, the Lord of Glory. Thus having filled the measure of iniquity, it, the nation was scattered over the face of the earth.
A prediction of this scattering and also of the dispersions of the nation in the preceding centuries, are found in our book. Thus there is also a prophetic element in the book of Deuteronomy. We do find in it a prediction of the exile of the people of Israel to Babylon, of its return to Canaan, and of the final dispersion of the people of Israel over the face of the earth. Let us show this.
Chapter 28-30 is formed exclusively of blessings and cursings. If Israel shall hearken diligently unto the voice of the Lord their God, to observe and to do all His commandments, all these blessings (those names in the sequence) shall come upon them. But if they will not hearken unto the voice of their God, then curses shall come upon them. The Lord shall bring them and their king to a nation which neither they nor their fathers have known. He will bring a nation against them from afar, from the end of the earth, as swift as the eagle flieth, a nation of fierce countenance, which shall not regard the person of the old, nor shew favor to the young. And he shall besiege them in all their gates, until their high and fenced walls come down wherein they trusted. And the Lord will make their plagues wonderful. And it shall come to pass, when all these things are come upon them, the blessings and the curse, . . .and they shall call them to mind among all the nations whither the Lord their God hath driven them, and shall return to the Lord and obey His voice, that then the Lord their God shall turn their captivity, and have compassion on them, and will return and gather them from all nations, whither Be has scattered them. And He will bring them unto the land which their fathers possessed, and they shall possess it. . . .And the Lord will circumcise their heart, and the heart of their seed, to love the Lord with ah their heart, and with all their soul that they may live. . . .For the Lord will rejoice over them for good, as he rejoiced over their fathers.
This last statement is plainly a reference to the blessedness of the church in glory. Now it is true that the statement to the effect that the Lord will root the people of Israel out of their land forms the subsequent clause of a conditional sentence, the introductory clause of which is, “If ye disobey my voice/’ so that it. may be objected that nothing is here predicted. But the conditional sentence has the force of a positive statement. This is plain from the subsequent chapters, where it is stated that the people of Israel will actually be overtaken by these judgments on account of their sins. Said the Lord to Moses, “Behold thou shalt sleep with thy fathers; and this people will rise up and go a whoring after the gods of the strangers of the land. . . .and will forsake me and break my covenant. . . Then my anger shall be kindled against them in that day, and I will forsake them. . .” (). And once more in the song of Moses, “But Jeshurun (the people of Israel) waxed fat, and kicked. . . .then he forsook God that made him. . .They have moved me to jealousy with that which is not God . . .and I will heap mischief upon them. . They shall be burned with hunger, and devoured with burning heat and with bitter destruction. . . And then follows the prediction of the return of the remnant to the land of Canaan and of the future glory of the church. “And the Lord shall judge his people and repent himself for his servants, and will render vengeance to his adversaries, and will be merciful unto the land of His people.” Here it is stated positively, i.e., unconditionally, that Israel, the remnant according to the election, will be led through tribulation to glory, will be redeemed through judgment. Though the Lord will heap mischief upon His people, though they will be devoured with bitter destruction on account of their sins, the Lord will be merciful unto them in the end.
In this prophetic section of our book passages occur which have meaning only if made to apply to the final dispersion of the nation. “And the Lord shall scatter thee among all people, from one end of the earth even unto the other. . . .And along these nations thou shalt find no ease, neither shall the sole of thy foot have rest: but the Lord shall give thee there a trembling heart, and failing of eyes, and sorrow of mind: and thy life shall hang in doubt before thee; and thou shalt fear day and night, and shall have none assurance of thy life. . .and the Lord shall bring thee into Egypt again with ships. . . .Thou shalt see it (thy land) no more again.”
It is plain that our book forms the foundation of all later prophecy. Isaiah begins His prophecy with words almost identical to those found at. The whole discourse (Chap. 1) is a mosaic from Deut. 31 and 32. How well acquainted Atoms is with Deuteronomy is evident from chap. 11:9; 4:11; 9:7. We detect the words of our book in many passages of Hosea. In the proverbs there is a reference to Deuteronomy from the beginning onwards. To a certain extent, the song of triumph of Deborah is formed upon original passages from Deut. 33. Christ makes significant use of Deuteronomy in his personal history.
Thus the significance of our book in the Canon of the Scriptures is plain. Our book completes the legislation that came by Moses by its emphasis on the law of love, at least by implication it thus sets forth the truth that works not springing from true faith have no ethical value in the sight of God and are thus very actually iniquity.
The book foretells the working out of the curse of God in the generation of the reprobated Israel to whom faith and love were not imparted. It foretells, does this book, the ultimate blessedness and glory of the redeemed of God, who by His mercy keep His covenant and who through tribulation are led by Him to their heavenly destination. Such being the scope of this book, it forms the groundwork for all later prophecy.
Finally, whereas the people of Israel are about to inherit the promised land, the book also in its middle section rounds out the legislation contained in the previous books.