Gary Millar’s insights on Deuteronomy

Some helpful stuff from one of the planet’s leading authorities on “the most important book of the Bible” (rough paraphrase)…

The structure of the book is grace in the past, grace in the present and grace in the future. It’s the book that holds everything together – the climax of the Pentateuch and the key that unlocks the rest of the OT (historic narratives and the prophets), and the NT. How do we understand the concepts of blessing and curse? How do we understand grace? Well, it’s here in Deuteronomy.

The logic of 2 Ways to Live comes from Deuteronomy 27.

Jesus answers the Devil, during his temptations, from Deuteronomy.

Getting to grips with this book really matters.

On the idea that the format of the book is based on a cultural “kingly covenant” from around the time it was written

We can’t nail the structure down to any “king treaty” from history. Quite clear that this book breathes the air of covenant – and a covenant relationship. It’s pretty clear that whatever else is happening this is Moses’ final sermon on the subject of God’s covenant with Israel.

On the current “academic” position that Deuteronomy was an exilic invention attributed to Moses as a propaganda exercise

Stupid Academic Theory which holds “Moses could not have foreseen the exile so it must have been written later by someone pretending to be Moses”.

Counter – If Moses has spent his lifetime dealing with Israel messing things up it’s reasonable to assume that he could credibly predict the behaviour of Israel in the future. The foundation of a lot of studies in academia in the last 60 years is on the idea that it’s a late book. A natural reading of Deuteronomy could lead you rightly to the conclusion that Moses, having lead Israel for forty years of frustration, might be in a position to come to these conclusions on the basis of his experience.

On Israel’s failing to claim the promised land and wandering in the wilderness

One of the amazing things about the zigzagging wandering through the desert is the accounts of the neighbouring nations – “your brothers the descendants of Esau”… God says “I have given the Edomites their land”… then, “I have given land to the Ammonites as the descendents of Lot”… the descendents of these other people managed to find their place while Israel failed – including dealing with giant peoples who occupied them, which Israel failed to do.

What is a reference to King Og’s bed doing there in the narrative – he’s a giant who Israel vanquished in their history – but they were too scared to take on the giants in the promised land first time around… this is a critique of Israel’s failure to take God at his word – they managed to deal with giants originally, their neighbours managed to deal with them, and yet, when it mattered Israel failed.

Bonus insight – In Hebrew “to hear” is “to obey” – it means to have taken the information on board and responded appropriately…

On the structure of “the laws and decrees” – Deuteronomy chapters 12 through 26

Several years ago the suggestion emerged that this passage is actually based on the Ten Commandments… which makes sense when you look at the structure. What you find if you look at chapters 12-26 is that you can find some parallels with the structure of the Ten Commandments.

When it gets to commandments 6-10 it gets very messy – but perhaps by the time they get to commandment six Moses has made his point and doesn’t need to maintain the structure.

When God makes a covenant he makes it with every generation of his people. While God made the promises to a previous generation Moses talks like the promise was made to the current people.

What are we looking at these laws for? We’re not the Israel – we’re 21st century Christians. As soon as we get to the laws all sorts of warning bells go off that this must be legalism. How do you get these chapters across?

Israel, as a society was to be a living breathing model about what life under God was about.

What is it about these laws that would make the surrounding neighbours gasp? There will be principles and pictures of what it means to be the covenant beauty of God.

The OT does not, and never did, understand under a works/righteousness system. The required response to God’s grace was the same pre Christ (though manifested slightly differently).

On some odd laws

“Do not cook a young goat in its mother’s milk”

Did anybody ever think this was a good idea? It seems a bit random.

“When men fight with one another and the wife of the one draws near to rescue her husband from the hand of him who is beating him and puts out her hand and seizes him by the private parts then you shall cut off her hand. Your eye shall have no pity.”

Was this some sort of joke Moses inserted to make sure people were paying attention – there appears to be no historic enforcing of this law.

On the division of the law

Calvin’s division of law into ceremonial, civil, and moral doesn’t actually fit with the text.

A better division:

  • Obedience and worship
  • Obedience and the land
  • Obedience and the community

The ultimate inheritance of Israel is not the land – it’s the God of the land.

A lot of the book is to do with human relationships.

1 thought on “Gary Millar’s insights on Deuteronomy”

  1. A couple of quick thoughts:

    1. The people of God appear to be the image of God (representative humanity in the way that Adam and Eve were). This is perhaps one reason they were forbidden from making images: they themselves as a community were to image God to the surrounding nations.

    2. The civil, ceremonial, and moral distinction seems like a dud. For one thing, they’re all jumbled up (Leviticus 19:25–37; Numbers 5:11–31; cf. Romans 2:17–29). Further, God seems just as serious about ‘ceremonial’ laws as he does about ‘moral’ ones (e.g. Leviticus 10:1–2); justification can only come through keeping the Law in its entirety, which appears to be impossible (Romans 10:5; Galatians 3:10–12, 21; 5:3–4; 6:13; but cf. Philippians 3:6, 9).

    I prefer Chris Wright’s observation in Living as the people of God (Leicester: IVP, 1983): the whole Law is moral (because obedience is total and obedience to God is a moral issue), and it includes different kinds of laws, including criminal, civil, family, cultic and charitable laws.

    (And this is without even getting into the fact that the narratives of the OT also seem to be instructive for the NT writers, e.g. Matthew 12:2–4.)

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