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Delighting in Deuteronomy

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One of the best strategies to resist the temptations that come our way through the hand of Satan and his forces is to remember and even quote the Bible. This is exactly what Jesus does when tempted by the devil (see Matthew 4:1-11 and Luke 4:1-13). Easily overlooked in Jesus’s responses to the devil’s temptations, however, is that all of the biblical quotations are from the Book of Deuteronomy (specifically Deuteronomy 8:3, 6:16, and 6:13). I don’t think Jesus quoting this particular book in response to all three temptations is a coincidence. Rather, I believe this is intentional and significant, pointing to important truths we should know about Jesus and about this particular book that sometimes is forgotten or overlooked by Christians. In order to understand why Jesus quoted from this Deuteronomy, we need to first understand the particular background of the book and these quotations.

What This Book is All About
Deuteronomy is an unusual name which comes from two Greek words: second (deuteros) and law (nomos). This is fitting because in the Book of Deuteronomy, God essentially gives Israel His law through Moses for the second time. The first time is in the Book of Exodus, as the Ten Commandments were given in Exodus 20 and then various other laws given in the following verses as well as in the Books of Leviticus and Numbers. We find then the Ten Commandments in Deuteronomy 5 and many other laws previously given repeated throughout the book, especially in chapters 12-26. Why did God have to give the law again? This is because 40 years had transpired and a new generation had emerged. The previous generation, which God had led out of slavery in Egypt and had given His law to, had disobeyed Him. This disobedience happens in many different ways but climaxes in Numbers 13-14. God said that the people would die in the wilderness as a result and that it would be the next generation who would enter the land of Canaan that God had promised to give them in fulfillment of the promise He made to their forefather Abraham. The Book of Deuteronomy is a series of speeches from Moses as this next generation prepared to enter the Promised Land, in which he reminds them of what God had done for His people in the past and also how He calls them to live in response.

The question lingering in the background of Deuteronomy, then, is whether this new generation will be better than the previous generation. Will they also fail and fumble, disobeying and disbelieving God? Or will they heed the call to worship only God (Deuteronomy 6:13) and not test Him like the previous generation (Deuteronomy 6:16)? Will they recognize the need to depend upon God’s Word even more than they depend upon food (Deuteronomy 8:3) – which, by the way, they are reminded that God so generously provided for them? Deuteronomy hints at the answer, as it not only notes the curses that will fall upon the people if they follow in the rebellious footsteps of their fathers and mothers (see Deuteronomy 27-28), but also that future generations will see those curses in action (see Deuteronomy 29:22-30:10). Deuteronomy points to the need for a new and better covenant, one that comes through one who is like, but even better than, Moses (Deuteronomy 18:15-18; 34:10-12) – and who will change hearts to enable them to obey God (see Deuteronomy 30:6) 

What These Quotes from Jesus Show Us About Jesus
Therefore, in quoting this book, Jesus is showing not just that he does what Adam and Eve couldn’t do in resisting the devil, but also that he is doing what the people of Israel (and Moses) couldn’t do. Where they failed, he was successful. Through his obedience, we know he came to establish the new and better covenant that this book points to. Because of this truth, we should look to him and trust in his work and his words. 

What These Quotes from Jesus Show Us About Deuteronomy
In addition to teaching us about Jesus, I believe that Jesus’s quotations from Deuteronomy teach us about the importance of this particular book. While it is not one that Christians often read, it is among the most quoted Old Testament books by New Testament writers. This is not the only significant time that Jesus quotes it, as he did so when asked what the greatest commandment is and cited the words of Deuteronomy 6:5 (see Matthew 22:34-40; Mark 12:28-34; Luke 10:25-28). Jesus’s apostles also would look to this book in numerous ways. They announce that Jesus was the fulfillment of the promise about the figure like Moses found in Deuteronomy 18:15 (see Acts 3:22; 7:37). We see Paul citing Deuteronomy 27:23-26 in his discussion of the gospel of Galatians 3. The writer of Hebrews quotes Deuteronomy 32:35-36 in Hebrews 10:28-31 and Deuteronomy 9:9 in Hebrews 12:21, and his reference to God as a “consuming fire” in Hebrews 12:29 uses the language of Deuteronomy 4:24. There are many other allusions and quotations of this book that I don’t have space to explore, but I believe that those that I have referenced show how important this book was to Jesus and early Christians.

What These Quotes from Jesus Show Us We Should Do
If Jesus and his first followers loved this book and thought it was important, we should too. I’ve recently spent some time studying Deuteronomy, and was reminded of the beauty of this book that its name can obscure. Hearing that it is the “second law” may lead us to think that it’s not important because it simply repeats what has been said already and that it is a boring or irrelevant collection of laws. When you read it, you see that this is far from the case. While it does contain and repeat laws, it includes and teaches much more. We see God’s grace on display throughout, as God offers them a second chance, reminds them of His love and care for them over the years, and that He chose them not because they were more numerous (see Deuteronomy 7:6-7) or more righteous than the other nations, but in spite of their stubborn and rebellious hearts (see Deuteronomy 9-10). It calls us to remember and obey God’s commands, but reminds us that we obey God because we love Him; our obedience is a response to God’s grace in our lives and a reflection of our love for Him (see Deuteronomy 10:12-11:1). This book is not just the second giving of the law, but a powerful reflection of the truths of our faith and the gospel message.  

Let’s delight in Deuteronomy like Jesus. Doing so will not just fill our minds with understanding, but will equip us for the spiritual battle we are in.

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