Category Archives: Church Articles

Where Does Deuteronomy Really Belong?

When asked who I believe wrote the book of Hebrews, I often respond with tongue firmly in cheek that it was Cleopas. After all, it was Cleopas who heard from Jesus’ own mouth, “and beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself,” (Luke 24:27, ESV). One could almost say that my theory is about as plausible as those who developed the theory involving Israel’s history. Yet a man by the name of Martin Noth took a theory that seemed nearly incoherent and developed a succinct understanding of how the books of Deuteronomy through 2 Kings combine to make one whole historical account.  It commonly known as the Deuteronomistic History. “The content of the Deuteronomistic History is the story of Israel’s emergence, success and ultimate failures as an independent political entity in the land of Canaan.”[1] While Noth is not the originator of the theory, he is certainly the one to make it more cogent. According to Noth, the books in question were written by someone, a redactor or editor—known as “Deuteronomist”, who accumulated source materials and then put them into a historical narrative. Like any narrative, these collections of books rise, have a climax, and fall. One can easily recognize the rises within the narrative by the three main characters’ speeches given within the books: Joshua’s speeches in Joshua 1:11-15 and 23:2-30, Samuel’s speech in 1 Samuel 12:1-24, and Solomon’s prayer in 1 Kigns 8:12:51.[2] “Noth’s evidence for his singular trident included the repetition of similar phraseology apparent throughout the Deuteronomistic History [Deut-2 Kings]. . .the prophecy/fulfillment schema of the history; the strategic appearance and function of unifying speeches and narratives by the leading characters,”[3] and various other evidences. To Noth’s credit, he claimed that the Deuteronomist was not seeking to entertain or slant evidence, but “intended to teach the truth meaning of the history of Israel from the occupation to the destruction of the old order.”[4] Noth seemed to want to remain as true to the text and its truth as possible. In fact, with some questions, Noth’s argument and understanding are quite appealing. There does seem to be a link between Deuteronomy and much of the historical books. If one was inclined not to believe or at minimum have doubts in future prophecy, Deuteronomistic History would be quite appealing as it allows for God’s work to continue to be done throughout Israel’s beginnings through her monarchial history. The same could be said about those who find Deuteronomy to be a book different the rest of those which it normally is association: the traditional understanding of the Pentateuch. Rather than having a Pentateuch (5 books of the Law), one would have the Tetrateuch (4 books of the Law) and the Deuteronomistic History (Deuteronomy-2 Kings).

As interesting as Noth’s ideas are, they are not without their flaws. In fact, many later scholars would bring these flaws to light. The result has been disastrous for the Deuteronomistic History. As one scholar wrote, “the concept of the Deuteronimism has become so amorphous that it no longer has any analytical precision and out to be abandoned (R. Wilson, 82).”[5] Noth does not answer in any real way about other speeches within the Deuteronomistic History such as the prophetic words by Nathan and the speech by David, which goes along with his seeming to focus more on the pessimistic view of the narratives than the optimistic. Noth argued, “We cannot possibly claim that the latter section [speaking of Nathan’s prophecy] is Deuteronomistic, since neither the prohibition of temple-building not the strong emphasis on the value of the manarcy are in the spirit of Dtr [the Deuteronomist writer]” (Noth, 55).”[6] In other words, as it would seem to me, Noth disregards the prophecy and speech because it doesn’t actually fit into his understanding of who the Deuteronimist writer would be or what he would write about; if something doesn’t fit into his narrative, he simply seeks to explain it away.

Obviously, such questions and explanations would lead to other theories about the Deuteronomistic understanding of Scripture. Suddenly, there was not simply one editor/redactor, but two, and then three, and so forth. At one point, the theorists began noticing that certain aspects of the books seemed to be in opposition. As if parts supported David and the monarchy and other parts were against it. “Veijola concludes that the apparently contradictory messages regarding the monarchy may be resolved by understanding DtrH as pro-David and promonarchy, DtrP as generally antimonoarchy, and DtrN as pro-David but generally anti-monarchy.”[7] Thus there are three Deuteronomist writers, and they oppose one another within the Scriptures themselves. It must be admitted at this point that when one calls into question Scriptures authenticity and authority in one place, it calls into question all of Scripture. If one is apt to disregard this concern, one only need to see that Noth’s concise theory (though not solely on the head of Noth) led to the likes of Peckham who does not limit the Deuteronomistic History to only Deuteronomy-2 Kings, but includes the whole Pentateuch and the Former Prophets (those prophets within Joshua-2 Kings).[8] If this expansion of the Scripture’s authorial authenticity is not bad enough, Van Seters’s claim that “the sources that the Deuteronomistic Historian refers to within history may be only a literary device—these ‘sources,’ and therefore the Deuteronomistic History itself, may be completely fictional (Van Seters, 43-49),”[9] take one to its logical conclusion: the Scriptures cannot be trusted because they are fictitious.

It is no wonder that even the historical critics now see that Noth’s baby has become a monstrosity and a failure. Noth sought to understand the writings of Scripture better and to make them understandable by moving Deuteronomy away from the Pentateuch and attaching it to the historical narratives, imposing a single author for those books. As stated, part of this was due to Deuteronomy’s seeming break with the other four books. However, one does not have to see the fifth book of the Pentateuch as a separate book, but rather a book in transition. Deuteronomy is different in its literary style, but that ought not be surprising since every other book in the Pentateuch has its own style as well. Genesis-Exodus 20 tends to be historical, but Exodus 20 through Leviticus reads as a legal document, with somewhat of “case-law” or active moments in which the execution of the law was put into practice. Numbers reads much like a census document. Thus when one gets to Deuteronomy, he should not be surprised that it reads differently. It is a different document, or volume, within the Pentateuch preparing the second generation of Israelites to enter the Promised Land.

Only persons who was under 20 years of age at the first attempt of entry or those who were yet to be born stand before Moses. At best there was a vague memory of leaving that pagan land. It had been forty years since the people had left Egypt and the law had been given. Moses was about to leave them in the hands of Joshua. When one reads Deuteronomy, it comes across as an iron fist in a velvet glove: firm but soft. It is pastoral and fatherly. In fact, many would consider Moses’ speeches to be more sermonic than mere oratory. Moses stated nothing that contradicted the law, however he did explain the law in different ways. He neither negated the law nor added to the law, but simply spoke of the law to this new generation, who for the most part, did not hear it in its original form at Mount Sinai. In similar ways, one could look to the Gospel According to John and see similar evidences of John’s account being written to a new generation of believers. Unlike the Synoptics which often tell many of the same stories, John brings forth new stories and explains Synoptic stories in fresh ways. While, John is indeed a different writer than Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, his motive very well could be the same as Moses’s: teaching the new generation what the law/gospel really means before he dies.

[1] B. T. Arnold and H. G. M. Williamson, eds., Dictionary of the Old Testament: Historical Books, (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2005), 220.

[2] Ibid., 221.

[3] Ibid., 222.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid., 227.

[6] Ibid., 223.

[7] Ibid., 225.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid., 226.

As Long as There is Breath

In the ancient lands what often took place was that the people would find a mountain, or if there were no mountains a hill, and they would use that as their capital city and the main place of worship.  They would build a temple to their greatest deity or deities as if to proclaim to all the other peoples around them or traveling through their cities that their god was watching over them.  Jerusalem was no different.  They had chosen Mt. Moriah, the mountain where Abraham had nearly sacrificed Isaac, also known as Mt. Zion to be their temple mountain and capital city (Jerusalem).

They had made a beautiful temple built at the instruction and care of Solomon.  It was one of the finest temples ever built in the ancient Near East.  It glittered in the sun. It shined in the night.  It could be seen for miles away.  It was a magnificent sight to see.  It is understandable why the elders of Jerusalem wept bitterly after coming back from Babylon and seeing the new temple that had been built.

If you have read Micah, you’ve probably noticed that he had proclaimed that the people of Judah were horrid people.  The government was corrupt, the prophets and priests were corrupt, and God was going to judge them.  They would lose everything.  They would be exiled and their lands would be destroyed.  The temple mountain would grow bushes and weeds because it would be torn down and abandoned.

But Micah, like God, loves the people too much to leave them in despair.  “It shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the house of the LORD shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and it shall be lifted up above the hills; and peoples shall flow to it,” (Micah 4:1).

This is what we would call poetry parallelism: highest of the mountains = above the hills. Micah’s point here is simply that God’s mountain, Mt. Zion, His house, the temple will be greater than the others. God is establishing His greatness above the other gods.  The palace of God, the temple (both the same word in Hebrew) would be not only restored to its original greatness and popularity, but even greater than it has ever been.  The debate over who has the stronger, more powerful God will be over.  God will be the undisputed champion of the world!  Everyone will know it.  No one will doubt it. People will be coming from everywhere!

That’s what Micah tells us, “And many nations shall come, and say: ‘Come let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob, that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.’  For out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem,” (Micah 4:2).

What’s that?  People all over the world, nations, which to the Jewish listener would mean Gentiles were coming to worship Yahweh, the God of the Jews.  In other words, God would not simply be the God the Jews but the God of the world.  His kingdom would be over everyone!  Not in some God created everything so He is the king of everything kind of ways, but people are coming from all over the world and worshiping God because they long to do so!

The word of the Lord is no longer confined to the people of Judah, but is spread all over the world.  It began in Jerusalem, but from there is spread like wild fire to the ends of the earth!  Does that sound familiar?  “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth,” (Acts 1:8).  By the time everything is said and done we will see what John saw:

After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb! (Revelation 7:9-10).

What began 2,000 years ago will continue until Christ returns.  There is no limit it would seem to the people who come into this kingdom.  Nations, peoples, tribes, languages.  Think about those who are being persecuted in places like North Korea who have buried Christians alive, Afghanistan where people have put bounties on their own family member’s head because he/she became a Christian. People from those nations that seem like no one would ever believe (and every other nation) will come to know Jesus!  What we generally look at as a lost cause and a hopeless situation will turn around by the very gospel that we hold!  For the gospel is the power of God unto salvation for everyone who believes.  No one is outside the power of God’s gospel.  As long as there is breath there is hope.

Please leave me a comment; I’d love to read what you have to say. If you found this encouraging please feel free to share.