Tag Archives: Deuteronomy

Leaning on Your Own Understanding

Last night during our family devotions, we opened up to those famous verses in Proverbs 3. “Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.  In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths,” (vv. 5-6, ESV). As we discussed this, I told my family that for years I completely misunderstood these verses. Taking them out of context, I saw them as verses telling me to trust God. He knows what he is doing even if I don’t. While that sentiment is true (cf. Isaiah 55:8-9), that’s not what these verses mean. I explained to them that in this context, we are talking about God’s wisdom versus our own wisdom, or our own thoughts.

We are to trust God’s wisdom–God’s revealed wisdom in his Word–and distrust our own understanding of our lives. It is God’s Word that is truth and our own hearts that lie to us. This thought took us to Jeremiah 17:9, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it,” (ESV)? The heart lies to us more than anything else! It is deceitful above all things! If a friend were to lie to us once, we would probably give them a break. We have all lied; maybe he/she thought he/she was in a bind. But what would happen if the lies continued? Would we ever trust anything that friend said?

I know someone personally who is a habitual liar. I’m not even sure if he knows he is. It seems so engrained into his nature to lie. He lies about little things and big things. My family has simply learned not to ever plan on anything he says to come to fruition. We love him dearly, but we don’t believe his words. Yet, think for a moment what Jeremiah told us: the heart is deceitful above all things. That means my heart is even more deceitful and more of a habitual liar than that person I know. That’s saying something there! No wonder Solomon told us not to lean on our own understandings, but to trust God with all our hearts (ironic I know).

That being said. . . This morning I got up to do my morning Bible reading and meditation. As I was reading Deuteronomy 1 for the third time this week, I thought about what Israel had done. Preaching through 1 Corinthians 10 these past few weeks reminded me that Israel and their history was written to serve as an example to the church. In Deuteronomy 1, Moses recounts how Israel had neared the Promised Land forty years prior. They sent out 12 spies, only to have 10 come back and tell them they couldn’t win the land. Only Joshua and Caleb said they could. The people recoiled in fear. They believed man’s wisdom instead of God’s. They believed their own fearful hearts rather than trust God completely. What was the outcome? God would not allow them to enter into the Promised Land. They missed out on the blessings–the land which flowed with milk and honey. Only those who trusted in God, Joshua and Caleb, were allowed to enter forty years later.

How often do we miss the blessings of God because we do not trust in his wisdom, but lean on our own understandings of this life and world we live in. God reveals his truth in his Word and yet we will not believe it because our hearts tell us a different story. Those deceptive, sick, depraved hearts shout against God’s still, small voice. They foolishly rebel against God’s all-powerful, all-knowing wisdom. If it were a person, we’d be living our lives completely oblivious to the heart’s promises, foolishness, and rebel words. But it isn’t a person. It’s our own inner-thoughts, inner-testimony, our own inner-fears, and so we lean upon our own understandings.

The result is the same as Israel’s. Israel missed out on the milk and honey. They missed out on the fruits and vegetables and fattened flocks. Instead, they continued to wander the wilderness with manna and water from the rock. God continued to provide. He did not abandon them, yet the missed out on the straight paths, the blessings and wisdom that were theirs if only they had trusted.

When Solomon brought up that God would make straight our paths, he didn’t necessarily mean that everything would be easy in life. Instead, that which was difficult would be eased because we don’t live by our wisdom, but God’s. When pain came, we could handle it because we would not believe our thoughts on the matter, but God’s. When hardships came, we would focus on God’s wisdom rather than our own. When we faced a cross-roads and needed to know which way to go, God’s wisdom would see us through. How blessed is that!?

In Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians, he wrote, “For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ, being read to punish every disobedience, when your obedience is complete,” (10:4-6, ESV; italics mine). Spurgeon wrote about these verses:

[The believer’s] powers of meditation and consideration keep within the circle of truth and holiness, finding green pastures there. Even when thinking about common things, matters that have to do with affairs of this world, he seeks to serve the Lord, for he knows that “every thought,” not some thoughts, is to be humbled into the obedience of Christ. (Spurgeon Study Bible)

One must remember that Spurgeon suffered severely with depression his entire life, and it worsened after people were trampled (seven killed and 28 severely injured) by a wicked calling of “fire!” during his preaching at Surrey Gardens Music Hall. I believe Spurgeon would say that this his words about the matter are the ideal thought-life of the believer, though not the way it always is. If the believer was always living by this standard, he’d be perfect. It is when we live by our own understandings that we sin against God. But the truth is this: the believer, because he/she has Christ, can bring his/her thoughts captive to him. That however means leaning not on our own understandings, but trusting Him.

May we seek to take our thoughts captive to Christ, trust God with all our hearts and lean not on our own understandings. Those bumps and twists and turns will be made straight and smooth as we grow in his wisdom and follow his navigating of our lives.

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.