Ever read a bad summary of a book that’s already been written? That’s what Deuteronomy is. Which makes this a review of a review.
Welcome to bad review Inception.
After forty years of wandering through the wilderness Israel found itself on the slopes of Moab overlooking the Jordan River. Across lay the promised land and all the hopes and dreams of a whole generation’s parents who’d passed away leaving only family dysfunction. Only Moses remained of the “that’s how we’ve always done it” era and he sure wasn’t going to let this moment pass.
Gather round kids while Uncle Moses tells you a story.
Moses began his review at Mt. Horeb which is probably dementia for Sinai. He told them about the spies and the lack of faith. He told them about other nations they’d encountered and kings they’d defeated. And he told them about the ten commandments. Again. Some of the events are recounted out of order but you get the bris.
Then, and this is worth noting, Moses added something new: Love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul and strength. Like a summary of the whole thing in one word. Love.
From there it gets predictable, naively karmic and oddly Zionistic.
Moses warned the Israelites that the folks currently residing in the land God was going to give them might not just going to hand it over. They might want to stay. But he told them that’d be a bad idea. Like hanging out with an ex. Nothing good comes of it. Best to run them off.
But when their ex does stay just for one drink, stay strong. Don’t be like them. You can be friends but don’t imitate their behavior. Basically everything your mom told you about those kids in the Methodist youth group. Y’all know who I’m talking about.
At times Deuteronomy reads like a computer program… if this then that. If you behave, God will bless you. If you don’t behave, God will punish you. After Genesis and Exodus where literally all of the heroes are knuckleheads. After seeing God bless murderers, liars, cheats, adulterers, it’s strange to read a book that reduces life to a formula.
Karma bats last.
One more strange twist. Up to this point all of those antiheroes worshipped wherever they experienced liked. Abraham, Jacob, and Moses all built altars in spiritually important places. Have a dream? Build an altar. Dig a well? Build an altar. But Moses told Israel after they moved into the land there’d be no more altars in spiritually significant places. Just one.
If I haven’t ruined this book yet for you, bear with me.
Imagine you’re a future Israelite king or prophet trying to unite the divided kingdom, rally folks behind Jerusalem, and convince your people that it’s all in their best interest. Like when Josiah discovered the book of the law while remodeling the Temple.
I’m just saying. It didn’t not help Josiah.
Moses wraps up by passing the baton to Joshua (we’ll talk about him a lot more in the next post), singing a song about everything God had done in his lifetime, and blessing all of the tribes by name. Then he climbed up the hill and died… and recorded his death for us all to read about.
A metaphor for how you’ll feel after reading Deuteronomy.