I’ve been trying to write each day just on the text that I’ve read, but I think I need to say a bit about how I think Deuteronomy fits with the first four books of the Bible I’ve just finished reading. As I start reading Deuteronomy, I’m thinking of it (perhaps influenced by having done my theology degree in the 80s!) as more of a start to the whole sweep of books that takes us through Joshua, Judges, 1 & 2 Samuel and 1 & 2 Kings than as part of the same set as Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus and Numbers. I know that’s not how it fits in the traditional arrangement of Bible books, and I don’t know how much difference it’s going to make, but for the sake of anyone reading I thought it best to lay my presupposition cards on the table.
Previously in the Bible…
Deuteronomy begins with a recap, like a new episode in a long-running series. In chapters 1-3 Moses reminds the Israelites – and so reminds us – of the story so far, especially of how they have come to be distinct tribes settling the Holy Land. Perhaps we should remember more often where we’ve come from with God, as part of the confidence we can have in following him.
Then in chapter 4 Moses points forward, to how the people are to settle in the land, faithful to God and not compromising in their worship of him. But along with the commands to faithfulness are some wonderful passages where Moses reminds them of their privilege.
What other great nation has a god so near to it as the LORD our God is whenever we call to him? (4:7)
Moses goes on to establish the principle that while God has disciplined Israel through tough times in the desert, and will do so again when they turn away from him, he will have mercy when they turn back to him. And at last we get the great affirmation of the uniqueness of God.
…the LORD is God; there is no other besides him. (4:35)
So acknowledge today and take to heart that the LORD is God in heaven above and on the earth beneath; there is no other. (4:39)
So through forty years of wandering Israel may not have covered a huge number of miles, but they have been led a great distance in their understanding. Not only is the LORD stronger than the gods of Egypt and the nations, the LORD is in a completely different category from any idea of God held by other nations.
As well as looking back at where we’ve come from, perhaps we need to look more often at our vision of God, to make sure that we are still seeing him in his unique glory. This isn’t about comparing ‘my God’ to ‘your God’ as if any comparison were possible. It’s about reminding ourselves that the God who gave freedom to Israel at the Exodus and to the world at Easter is the only God. No lesser vision deserves to be called ‘God’ at all.