Our church is beginning a sermon series on the book of Deuteronomy. I am immensely excited about this. Deuteronomy is such an important book. It sits in the canon as the climax to the Pentateuch (the foundation of the OT) and as the introduction to the rest of the story of Israel. It is also the book which Jesus uses to respond to his temptation in the wilderness. Each time the devil tempts him, Jesus responds from the book of Deuteronomy (See Matt. 4:1-11).
Our unofficial theologian in residence taught a self proclaimed lesson (not a sermon) on the book of Deuteronomy as a whole. It was a great introduction to Deuteronomy. You can read an excerpt from it here. The thought that struck me the most was his assertion that Deuteronomy is not law for us, it is wisdom. I was a bit taken aback by this and spent much of the service pondering it.
Christian’s always have to come up with some answer on how to deal with the law in the Old Testament. We frequently site Rom 10:4 ‘Christ is the end of the law’ (τέλος γὰρ νόμου Χριστὸς) or Jesus’ words: ‘Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have not come to abolish but to fulfill’ (πληρῶσαι). We are clearly not ‘under the law’ in the same way that Israel was (e.g., Rom 6:14; 1 Cor 9:20; Gal 3:10). What then do we do with 2 Tim 3:16 (speaking specifically about the OT): ‘All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness. We rightly sympathize with the problematic nature of having someone stand up in our worship services and read:
Deut. 21:1ff. “If, in the land that the LORD your God is giving you to possess, a body is found lying in open country, and it is not known who struck the person down, then your elders and your judges shall come out to measure the distances to the towns that are near the body. The elders of the town nearest the body shall take a heifer that has never been worked, one that has not pulled in the yoke; the elders of that town shall bring the heifer down to a wadi with running water, which is neither plowed nor sown, and shall break the heifer’s neck there in the wadi….” The word of the LORD, Thanks be to God!
I have always tended to interpret the law as narrative. That is, to understand its role in the Story of Israel and to see that our place in the story comes after the law has been fulfilled by Christ. But, I do want to say that the weightier issues of the law (to borrow a phrase from Walter Kaiser) are in effect because the law reflects the way that God desired His chosen people to act when they were in the Promised Land. In this sense we could look at the ideals of the law to be normative for us.
As I thought about the sermon from Sunday, it struck me that wisdom is not a bad category to use when dealing with the law. If wisdom literature is reflecting on the way the world works around us, then reflecting on the law in this way is a sort of revelatory wisdom, whereby we, as New Covenant people, reflect on God’s revealed ideals in the law and apply them to our lives as normative. This is my thought process for now. I look forward to interacting with Deuteronomy more as our Church processes through this book.