Deuteronomy: Past, Present, and Future

What is the Lord doing with Abraham’s family in Deuteronomy? Remember the promise in Genesis 15:5:

And [God] brought [Abram] outside and said, “Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.”

Listen to how Moses addresses the people here:

Your fathers went down to Egypt seventy persons, and now Yahweh your God has made you as numerous as the stars of heaven. (Deut 10:22)

This part of the promise has come to fruition. Now the goal is to prepare the people to take the land.

The past

In Moses’ final speech, he reviews the events of the exodus and runs through the basics of the Law one more time.

Moses makes very clear that the reason the Lord has chose to do everything he has done for them has nothing to do with Israel’s inherent goodness.

Know, therefore, that the LORD your God is not giving you this good land to possess because of your righteousness, for you are a stubborn people. (Deut 9:6)

Deuteronomy speaks a lot of the past, but it is remarkable in that the focus is more on the present and especially the future. Perhaps it was written as a genuine prophecy of what would befall Israel; maybe it was written later as an explanation of how they ended up in exile. Either way, Deuteronomy is a rich, theological explanation of Israel’s covenant with God, what it means to be faithful, and how disobedience can cost them everything.

The present call

From beginning to end, Moses pleads with the people to obey. In this regard, and particularly in light of the New Testament polemics regarding “the Law,” listen to Deuteronomy 6:25:

And it will be righteousness for us, if we are careful to do all this commandment before the LORD our God, as he has commanded us. (Deut 6:25)

The call is for obedience from the heart, anticipating the critique of the prophetic literature and Jesus himself.

And now, Israel, what does the LORD your God require of you, but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no longer stubborn. (Deut 10:12)

Looking forward

The most remarkable aspect of the book is the way Deuteronomy looks forward. Deuteronomy speaks to Israel as we see her in every portion of the canon.

Conquest

In Deuteronomy, we are in the plains of Moab and the people are about to take the promised land, so of course the events of Joshua are in view. This is the whole point of the speech. Moses is making one last effort to ensure the people know how to live well once they inhabit the land.

Judges

Deuteronomy 12:8 sounds a warning for the time of the Judges:

You shall not do according to all that we are doing here today, everyone doing whatever is right in his own eyes … (Deuteronomy 12:8)

In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes … In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes (Judges 17:6; 21:25)

Kings

Deuteronomy looks ahead to the events of Samuel through Chronicles, when Israel will ask for a king:

When you come to the land that the LORD your God is giving you, and you possess it and dwell in it and then say, ‘I will set a king over me, like all the nations that are around me,’ you may indeed set a king over you whom the LORD your God will choose. (Deut 17:14–15)

Like the ideal king of Psalm 1, this king should be one who meditates on the Law day and night.

And when he sits on the throne of his kingdom, he shall write for himself in a book a copy of this law, approved by the Levitical priests. And it shall be with him, and he shall read in it all the days of his life … (Deut 17:18–19)

Disobedience and Exile

The Lord makes clear to Moses that the people are stubborn and will not obey:

And the LORD said to Moses, “Behold, you are about to lie down with your fathers. Then this people will rise and whore after the foreign gods among them in the land that they are entering, and they will forsake me and break my covenant that I have made with them. (Deut 31:16)

Here, we are looking ahead to the end of Chronicles and the time of the prophets. Exile is coming:

The LORD will bring a nation against you from far away, from the end of the earth, swooping down like the eagle, a nation whose language you do not understand … (Deut 28:49)

They’ll be scattered among the nations:

And the LORD will scatter you among all peoples, from one end of the earth to the other, and there you shall serve other gods of wood and stone, which neither you nor your fathers have known. (Deut 28:64)

Restoration

The time of Nehemiah, and ultimately Jesus, is in view in the promises of restoration.

Yahweh will scatter you among the peoples … but from there you will seek Yahweh your God and you will find him, if you search after him with all your heart and with all your soul. (Deut 4:27, 29)

Their seeking will be rewarded by a return to the land and a circumcised heart:

If your outcasts are in the uttermost parts of heaven, from there the LORD your God will gather you, and from there he will take you … And the LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live. (Deut 30:4, 6)

Another prophet like Moses

Finally, Moses says that another prophet, one like himself, will arise:

The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers—it is to him you shall listen … (Deut 18:15)

But at the end of the book, in the final paragraph, that prophet had not yet come:

And there has not arisen a prophet since in Israel like Moses, whom the LORD knew face to face … (Deut 34:10)

Conclusion

I hope this post helps you see what people mean when they say things like Deuteronomy is Bible’s own “Old Testament Theology.” The book speaks backwards and forwards to the subject matter of practically every portion of the canon, past, present, and future.

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