18 November 2019

Deuteronomy 4:1-14

“So now, Israel, give head to the statutes and ordinances that I am teaching you to observe, so that you may live to enter and occupy the land that the Lord the God of your ancestors is giving you.” (v. 1)

Psalm: Psalm 107:1-16


The book of Deuteronomy is the fifth book of the Hebrew Law, the last of the five books of Moses or Pentateuch. It is written as if Moses is speaking to the Israelites as they prepare to enter the Promised Land, with Moses giving them detailed instructions and laws which they must obey as citizens of this new land to which God had led them. It's likely, however, that this book is the same "book of the law" found by the high priest in the Temple during the reign of King Josiah around 621BC (2 Kings 22:8).

Josiah led a religious transformation that included centring on one legitimate way of worship that focused on the Temple and purged the wider indigenous religious rituals and beliefs. Having a book that was said to be written by Moses and containing his speeches helped to legitimise these reforms and changes. Therefore, the destruction of "all the vessels made for Baal, for Asherah" and the removal of the "idolatrous priests" (2 Kings 23:4-5) are carried out because of the words of Moses in the newly "found" book of the law highlighting how "the Lord your God destroyed from among you everyone who followed the Baal of Peor" (v. 3). There was now, only space for one God and one religious practice.

The system of law in itself was seen to be a mark of a civilised people. This sophistication was said to impress those already living in the land to which the Israelites were soon to go and led them to consider their new neighbours "wise and discerning people" (v. 6).

It was also important to ensure that what was learnt by those first hearing the law would be passed on to "your children and your children's children" (v. 9). If laws are to be kept, they need to be repeated regularly and taught to each successive generation, with the use of salvation stories to underline their authority and importance.

To Ponder:

  • Observing the law diligently shows your "wisdom and discernment" (v. 6). Is that always the case?
  • The Deuteronomic code had no place for alternative religious practices. How does that sit with our inter-faith dialogue today?
  • How important is it for us to teach our religious traditions to our children and our grandchildren? And how best might we do so? 

Bible notes author

Dr Richard Vautrey

Richard Vautrey is a local preacher and church steward in Leeds, and a former Vice-President of the Methodist Conference. He works as a GP, is an elected member the BMA Council and is chair of the BMA's GP committee.

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