What Was the Law Intended to Do?
A Response to Steve Kindle
Steve makes a bold and faithful statement here in this article “As noted by scholars from Von Rad, Noth, to Bruggemann, the Law was given as an act of loving grace.” At the same time, this statement is troubling “Has God another plan in mind? Given God’s ability to change direction due to facts on the ground, we can only surmise and for some of us, even hope.”
I want to explore this last statement a little further and possibly recapture HOPE by offering an alternative view to Steve’s final statement. Steve’s article alludes to the fact that the law failed to deliver what it was purposed to do. Still, I believe it can be proven that the Law was never given to establish a covenantal relationship. Instead, it was given to guide the people as they lived in that covenantal relationship.
In the above statement, Steve states that God is subject to man’s failures and changes direction out of response. Yet, I think that scripture, including Deuteronomy, points to a sovereign and determinative God. Let’s follow Steve’s leadership and look at Deuteronomic Theology.
The name of the book Deuteronomy comes from (deutero = second; nomos = law) and is often labeled “a second giving of the law.” This label, coupled with a misunderstanding of the Law and its purposes, creates a misunderstanding of the book. Adding to that confusion is the evocative image chapter seven conjures up of God as a warrior. A word picture was given to the Israelites just as an eagle, shepherd, and parent.
It is not meant to be descriptive of character but to understand how God acts. Steve quotes Old Testament scholar Walter Bruggemann. Bruggemann advises caution in dismissing the parts of Deuteronomy that present terrifying texts or using them to redefine God’s character. Instead, we should contextualize them by seeing within the historical context of a vicious period and reflects the realities of such times. At the same time, we should see a God whose character portrays wrath.
The depiction of God’s wrath, rather than being seen as problematic, should be seen as foreshadowing that something more was needed than the Law. Deuteronomy is a book about image-bearing and God calling His people to reflect His glory. At the same time, it Introduces new concepts and a way of living to the Israelites. The book reveals the gospel as defined by showing who God is, what He has done, doing, and doing.
Deuteronomy contains three sermons from Moses that are meant to give the Israelites a sense of identity. Along with revealing God’s rescuing, forgiving, redeeming, restoring, and sovereign, loving grace. It is the first book to give a face to the covenant established by God.
The majority of the book and its central theme present the Law (Deuteronomy 5-26) and the consequences of failure (Deuteronomy 27-30). Notice that I start with the Law beginning in chapter five; the first four chapters are a refresher course on God’s goodness, as defined above, presents the gospel. There is also another kind of grace we see that is part of God’s sovereign, loving grace and warning grace.
Deuteronomy 6:10-12 gives us a beautiful example of that warning grace as Moses tells the Israelites; “You’re going to go into a land that
you didn’t get by your power, in houses that you didn’t build, in fields that you didn’t plant.” and then “You’re going to forget the God who gave all those things to you, and you’re going to worship false gods.”
The first eight chapters reveal to us a God who is not subject to the creation, but is determinative, and sovereign (1:6-8, 13-I4, 22-23, 27, 31, 34-39, 2:2-3, 13-14, 17-25, 29-33, 36, 3:2-3, 18, 21-28, 4:1O-13, 19-20, 31, 34-38, 5:6, 30-33, 6:10, 7:1-2, 6-16, 8:6-10, 13-18). Chapters four to six specifically reveal that it is because of the covenant God had made with Adam and Abraham that the Israelites had been brought out of Egypt to travel to the promised land (4;34-38 5:6, 6:10-11.). Then out of a response to God’s sovereign, determinative love, they were to live.
Deuteronomy tells of the death of Moses. Moses carries significance in the Bible and literary and historical documents across the globe. Noting Moses’s importance is essential in understanding that like all O.T. characters, such as Noah, Jacob, and David, Moses is a typology (In Biblical exegesis topologies help us connect the Old Testament to the New Testament. [Luke 24:27]). Christ is the better Moses (Hebrews 3:3-4).
Whereas Moses failed because of sin to deliver his people to the promised land, Jesus is the way into the promised land. Christ, though, doesn’t brush aside either Moses or the Law. When asked the greatest commandments, He quotes Moses (Deuteronomy 6:5-6 [Matthew 22;37-40])—establishing a connection to himself, Moses, and the Law while establishing authority. As He points to what the Jews called their Shema, the first prayer every Jew learns.
He doesn’t dismiss the Law as a plan once tried unsuccessfully but instead establishes that the Law was to be followed as a response to the covenant first established with Adam (Genesis 3:14-15) and Abraham (Genesis 15-17). Faced with temptation, Jesus quotes the Law, as He quotes Deuteronomy 8:3.
More than eighty times, the apostles cite Deuteronomy, revealing the continuity of scripture. Noteworthy is Paul’s referencing Deuteronomy in his Gospel opus, Romans. The apostle Paul draws on Deuteronomy to show how the Law points out sin (Romans 7:7; Romans 10:6–8, 19 [Deuteronomy 30:12–14]). Paul further connects that the Law guides and teaches us how to love our neighbor (Romans 13:9 [Deuteronomy 5:17–19, 21]). Continue to connect his gospel thesis to Deuteronomy by stressing not to seek personal revenge (Romans 12:19 [Deuteronomy 32:35]) and that the Gentiles would be included (Romans 15:10 [Deuteronomy 32:43]).
In reviewing Paul’s continuity, it makes other things Paul said relevant to our understanding of the Law found in Deuteronomy. Beginning with noting that the issue wasn’t the Law, it was that the Law could not produce within the people that which it demanded (Romans 7:10). Paul would further emphasize that the Law was never meant to establish a relationship (Galatians 3). Not only was Paul clear about the Law not being able to deliver, but he emphasizes that Abraham was saved through faith, and those with faith are Abraham’s seed (Galatians 3:6-10[ Genesis 15:6[Romans 4]).
Continuing further in exploring the themes of grace throughout Deuteronomy as the last book of Torah, it should be noted that it ends on a note of grace. As mentioned already, the wrath of God is a foreshadowing that something more is needed. Chapter 30 picks back up the theme of foreshadowing. Moses notes three things about the future in verse 30.
Beginning with noting the impossibility of keeping the Law, as stressed in verse one. “When all these blessings and curses I have set before you come on you and you take them to heart wherever the LORD your God disperses you among the nations . . .”
Before he finishes his final sermon, he tells the Israelites you’re not going to keep the Law, your going to suffer as a result, and part of your suffering will be you’re going to be exiled and separated as nomads. He had already stressed in chapter 28 that the result of their failure would lead to being exiled and separated.
The second thing Moses notes about the future is that God has a plan of rescue in place, a plan established before the world’s foundation (30:2–5[Ephesians 1:3]). In verse six, he lays this out as He tells them that God will rescue their hearts. Paul not only connects to this chapter in Romans 10, but he echoes the reality that our hearts are circumcised (Romans 2:29) but calls those in Christ the true circumcision (Philippians 3:3). What Moses speaks of here is the gospel, as already defined.
Circumcision was an external act, but when Moses says God will circumcise their hearts, he’s speaking of an internal circumcision accomplished through Christ. Paul connects further to this circumcision in Colossians 2:11. The cross also points to this sermon of Moses. Christ experiences the covenant curse fully as He is cut off from God in His humanity. Bringing upon Himself the curse Deuteronomy states, again and again, is the result of sin against the covenant made with God.
In this way, Christ fulfills the Law given through the covenant. He suffers the experience and penalty all lawbreakers deserve.
Thus we no longer need to fear the circumcision of God, Christ having experienced it, and thus delivering it. Our hearts are circumcised when we accept that we deserved the cross’s brutality and place our faith in Christ’s finished work.
Finally, in verses 11-15 of chapter thirty, Moses gives us a final futuristic vision. In these verses, it appears that Moses is saying that the Law is not too hard, and if they follow it, they will experience “life and prosperity.” Many read this and determine that the Law is easy, pretty straight forward and not burdensome.
These final verses allude not to the Law’s straightforwardness but rather to the fact that the Israelites were without excuse, as God had revealed to them already, His will, and how He desired them to live. They did not have to wonder, go looking for, or in a search for God’s will; it had come to them. This is encouragement even for us as believers today.
Yet, despite appearing just for the Israelites, Paul references this passage to give us a better understanding of Moses in Romans 10:4, 6–9. In doing so, he brings knowledge that the only thing that is not impossible, won’t crush you, won’t send you looking for resolution is the gospel. Jesus accomplished it so that there would be no more condemnation for us who can’t.
Deuteronomy connects the Jewish faith to the Christian faith as both anticipate when the Deliverer will restore Hope. As Christians, we know Hope is embodied in Christ. Christ speaks not only that He is the way but that He will return to fulfill God’s promises (John 14) as the Deliverer. Paul points to a time when not only will the Gentiles have been brought in, but a remnant of Israelites will be rescued. Here again, he notes that it will not be obedience to the Law but by faith (Romans 11:5-6).
Throughout the last chapters of Deuteronomy, we see that both faith and obedience are gifts from God. Along with the fulfillment of the covenant is based on God, not man. Covenant fulfillment is a work established and completed by God. It is a gift given freely to the undeserving, often unrepentant, and covenant breakers because this is all there is. This is the gospel found in Deuteronomy.
Like most of the Old Testament, Deuteronomy disturbs us as it presents God’s wrath and His demand for perfect obedience. It reveals the US, our failure to obey, and our pursuit of other lovers, despite God’s relentless pursuit of US and goodness. It sharply challenges us in loving and treating those we see as possessing or being less, as God does all his covenant children.
Nonetheless, it presents a vision of hope, promise, and where God has the last word, not our ability to hold up our end of the covenant. Simultaneously, revealing that the promise of covenant restoration and fulfillment should produce a response that says that we are Loved, set apart, loved by the Almighty God. So that He that cares most about His Glory, is glorified through the circumcision of our hearts.