Tag Archives: Old Testament

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.

God’s Covenant Within the Pentateuch

Like most Baptists, I grew up with Dispensational Theology as the only theology. I had never even heard of Covenantal Theology. I was intrigued with the books of Clarence Larkin and J. Dwight Pentecost. It was all I knew; and I consumed the theology. Initially, it was all about the end-times; after all, what else was there? We could be raptured at any moment! Yet, as I went into young adulthood, I realized there was more. It was a whole way of reading the Bible, of understanding the text, especially the covenants and how God related with humanity–but predominately, still the end-times (for me personally). Here is my confession: As I was reading The Left Behind series, I began to have my doubts about the eschatology of the Dispensational Theology. I knew what I was reading was fiction, but as I was growing in my studies of the rest of Scripture, I could not jive what I was reading in that series with what the Bible was saying. At that point I went on a theological journey and discovered Covenant Theology. I read books like Far As the Curse is Found by Michael Williams. I read the covenants for what they were,  without preconceived ideas (at least tried), and discovered that they read differently than I was ever taught. Williams (following McWilliams) would argue that there was an Adamic Covenant but rather than it being a covenant of works, it was indeed a covenant of grace. “Adam was required to obey the covenant instruction not to eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, and Adam’s failure to obey would bring sin and death. But the sufficient condition for the covenant and Adam’s life within it was the father and kingly favor of God. What I am suggesting here is that life in covenant relationship with God was something that Adam enjoyed by God’s grace” (Michael D. Williams, Far As the Curse is Found, (Philipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing, 2005), 72). The sign (and blessing) within the Adamic Covenant (as all covenants have their signatures) was the tree of life itself (ibid., 51). Being a covenant of grace did not necessitate it to be an everlasting or unconditional covenant however. Upon Adam’s fall, the tree of life (sign/blessing) was forbidden and eventually removed, only to reappear in Revelation 22 when all things are restored and even made greater. I bring this part up simply because Alexander and Baker seemed to dismiss entirely the idea of an Adamic Covenant (Alexander and Baker, Dictionary: Pentateuch, 141-142), but instead wrote and argued against a creation covenant (Ibid., 139-143).

From here one would go to the Noahic Covenant, which as indicated by Alexander and Baker, was a retelling of the creation story (Ibid., 323-324), which would give credibility to a covenant with Adam. If Noah–the one from whom all life would come–received a covenant, would not the original one from whom all life would come also have received a covenant, even if not explicitly laid out? It would seem, at minimum, plausible. The Noahic Covenant was, like the Adamic, a covenant of grace. It’s sign and blessing was that of a rainbow. Unlike Adam’s covenant, this one is eternal. “God promises here are not contingent upon human response or behavior,” (Ibid., 140). However, like the Adamic, there are calls to obedience: no eating of blood, multiply and fill the earth (subdue it). “Thus, the primary obligation imposed on humanity is that of fulfilling the role appointed by God in the beginning,” (Ibid.).

Both Williams (p. 100) and Alexander and Baker (p. 143) would agree that the Abrahamic Covenant builds off the Noahic and the Mosaic/Sinaitic builds from the Abrahamic. One of the issues that I struggled with long ago was that of the Abrahamic Covenant not truly being a covenant of grace since to be part of the covenant one, if he were male, must be circumcised. If he was not, he was cut off from the people and the covenant. If, according to Alexander and Baker, God was narrowing the focus from filling the earth to simply making a nation that would bring blessing to the earth (Ibid., 356), this would seem to make perfect sense. God’s covenant with Abraham and his descendants cannot be circumvented by allowing anyone to come in anytime they please, nor allowing anyone to stay in when they will not abide. Whether one sees Genesis’s chapters 12, 15, and 17 as one covenant expansion or as separate covenants, chapter 17 ultimately includes all the substance of the previous two (seed, land, and blessing), and incorporates circumcision as both a sign and blessing.  The sign to remind the male of God’s promises and a blessing for without it all the promises would be removed as he would be cut off. Thus, while the Abrahamic Covenant was one of grace in the same manner as the Adamic and Noahic (no one compelled God to make a covenant, but He did so out of grace), it was not unconditional, and so not in any real way, eternal (according to man’s standard).

It is not difficult, therefore, to see how the Mosaic Covenant is an extension or expansion of the Abrahamic. In one sense, one could say that it was a reissuance of Abraham’s to the entire nation, however in another sense, the Mosaic is better thought of as being encompassed within the Abrahamic (Ibid., 150). The sign of the Mosaic Covenant (as well as its blessing) is that of the Sabbath rest, not only Saturdays, but any and all Sabbaths. “You are to speak to the people of Israel and say, ‘Above all you shall keep my Sabbaths, for this is a sign between me and you throughout your generations, that you may know that I the LORD, sanctify you,” (Ex 31:13, ESV; italics mine). Once again, to break the Sabbath is cause for being cut off from the covenant and thus the blessing. The Sabbath blessing was not the only blessing, but it was a sign of the blessed rest in God. One should not forget that according to 2 Chronicles 36:20-21, the Israelites were taken into Babylon so that the land could enjoy its Sabbaths that the people never kept; thus, not keeping the sign and so not keeping the blessings, but rather being cut off.

What is interesting is that Alexander and Baker only mention the Suzerain treaty in passing.  Williams (citing G. E. Mendenhall) notes six components of such a treaty paralleling with Exodus:

  1. Preamble – Ex. 20:2 “I am the LORD your God”
  2. Historical Prologue – Ex. 20:2 “who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery”
  3. Covenant Stipulations – Ex. 20:3-17 (The Ten Commandments)
  4. Public reading of the document – Ex. 24:1-11
  5. Deposit of the tablets – Ex. 25:16 (often 2 copies were made, 1 for the king and 1 for the vassal, leaving the possibility that the two tablets in Moses’s hands were identical copies rather than 5 to 5 or 4 to 6 commandments on each)
  6. Giving of blessings/cursings depending on adherence – the rest of the Old Testament (but predicted in Deuteronomy 28-30)
    (Williams, Far As the Curse is Found, 141-142)

Williams also pointed out that in giving this covenant, Israel was agreeing to have God as their King and they would be His servants (vassals – a kingdom of priests and holy nation). At the same time, God covenanted with the people to “fulfill his promised role as covenant overlord to his people,” (Ibid., 143).

Taking all this information together, one may define covenant as an initiative by a loving and gracious God to an undeserving people to show that love and grace through blessings, protection, and discipline. Each covenant goes deeper and wider, becoming deeply rich in its implications and widely spread encompassing 2 persons, then 8, then a nation, finding its ultimate and truest form in Jesus Christ given to all who believe.

Once again, you get to enjoy what I am studying in my Old Testament Survey class. Feel free to respond. I’d love to hear from you, even if it is about covenants.