K:JNWTS 31/1 (May 2016): 3-13


James T. Dennison, Jr.

What is the fifth book of Moses?


What does "Deuteronomy" mean?

It is derived from a compound Greek word (the actual title of the book in the Greek OT/LXX)—deutero nomion which means "second law".

Why this strange name for the book?

Because of Deuteronomy 5 which contains the second listing of the decalogue or Ten Commandments (cf. Ex 20:1-17).

What is the name of the book in the Tanach/Tanakh (Hebrew Bible)?

devarîm which means "words" from the initial words of v. 1—in Hebrew ʼęlleh haddevarîm ("these are the words")

Whose words are we reading?

The words of Moses reviewing and renewing the words of God

What is the narrative setting or location for the rehearsal of the words of Deuteronomy?

The wilderness across the Jordan on the east bank of that river (1:1)

Who are the recipients or hearers/rememberers of these words?

"all Israel" (1:1)

What is the narrative plot of these words?

Under God, Moses and all Israel look back to the day they exited Egypt and review the dramatic events of the past forty years in the wilderness

So this book is a retrospective review of redemptive history from Egypt to the Jordan?



To actualize or vitalize the story of Israel in (and out) of Egypt, Israel in the wilderness and Israel on the brink of the Promised Land

So this present recital is a re-existentializing of the past experience.

Yes, Moses' review and renewed rehearsal of the past dramatizes the participation of all Israel outwardly in the benefits of the Exodus and the sojourn in the wilderness. They do not reach the present story without the past story.

And what about the future?

The present anticipates the future in prospect. Deuteronomy prepares them for the new beginning of entrance into the land promised to their fathers—Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Notice the bracket-like feature of this pledge at the beginning (1:8) and the end (34:4) of the book.

This narrative therefore consists of an organic continuum?

Yes, unfolding God's rich grace in Exodus deliverance/redemption, his gracious preservation of his pilgrim people in the wilderness and the future gracious prospect of settlement in their inheritance

You are saying that Deuteronomy is the narrative review of the grace of God for his sojourning people?

Yes; grace brings them out of bondage; grace carries and provides for them in the wilderness; grace will bring them over Jordan to the bounteous (in grace) land of milk and honey

You are also saying therefore that there is no works-merit paradigm in this retrospective, existential, prospective continuum?

How could any people or nation of sinners (Israel was by nature a nation of sinners) merit or deserve or earn anything from God's hand (1 Cor 4:17; Rom 11:33)?
How could any people or nation of totally depraved sinners (Israel was by nature totally depraved)—and therefore totally unable sinners (i.e., Israel was by nature totally unable to perform an act deserving God's merit)—how could such a people depraved and disabled by nature earn any reward in this life or the life to come from Almighty God. To suggest that they were able to merit, even if restricted to temporal merit, is not only to implicitly repudiate what the Bible says about the effects of original sin, but it is also to implicitly repudiate the first of the Five Points of Calvinism (all mankind is totally depraved in sin and thus totally unable to earn any merit from a holy God).
Thus, we read Deuteronomy with our understanding that "all Israel" on "the plains of Jordan" is, by nature, totally depraved and totally unable to merit any favor or blessing or reward from a sovereign and holy Triune God.

How do you find this in the book of Deuteronomy itself?

Deuteronomy is organized explicitly on a grace-faith paradigm, the very antithesis of a works-merit paradigm.

Where does this pattern of grace (God's free [sovereign], undeserved/unmerited [unearned] favor [kindness]) begin?

In Deut 4:37—"because he loved your fathers, therefore he chose their descendants after them. And he personally brought you from Egypt by his great power." God's great power (not Israel's non-existent merit) as an act of sovereign grace delivered Israel from the bondage of Egyptian slavery (so totally unable were they to deliver themselves or even contribute to their deliverance by their temporal works or efforts). God's choice or election or predestined foreordination of the Exodus was conditioned on nothing in Israel; no word or deed performed by Israel; no blessing temporal or eternal earned/merited by Israel. It was solely and only by the undeserved grace of God's sovereign, electing love for her "fathers" and their undeserving "descendants". There is no human merit at the base of God's election, predestination, foreordination. No human act (of Israel or any other son or daughter of Adam) is able to earn, deserve or merit divine election, predestination to deliverance, foreordination of liberation from bondage. An exodus comes from electing grace alone, not from merit in sinners, nor from grace in God and then subsequent merit in sinners. Israel in Egypt is totally in bondage and totally unable to redeem herself from that state of bondage.
NB: The Reformed faith has always drawn an analogy between total depravity and total inability and the state of Israel in Egypt—totally subject to bondage and totally unable to free/save/redeem/liberate themselves from that estate/condition.

Where is the next reference to this grace paradigm?

Deut 7:6-7—"For you are a holy people to the Lord your God; the Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for his own possession out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. The Lord did not set his love on you nor choose you because you were more in number than any of the peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples." Here the number of Israelites is a non-factor in God's gracious electing choice of the nation. Not their great population (which was in fact puny, "few"), but God's love (emotion of grace, v. 8) and oath (promise of grace) was the redeeming (not earning or meriting) grace (not works) basis for manumission from the house of slavery. Nothing in Israel is the ground of her redemption; the condition is in God's love (his love is unconditional—i.e., no sinner could perform the condition); the divine person alone is the pledge and assurance (not Israel's conditional or derivative obedience, pledge or oath to God, but God's unconditional promise and pledge of grace to Israel). The radical antithesis is between what God provided in his gracious love and promise and what Israel receives from him (cf. 1 Cor 4:17) in redemption and release apart from human merit or deserving or worthiness. The grace of God's love is antithetical to the merit of human sinners (which is, in fact, non-existent, temporally or eternally). Total depravity and total inability in Israel require sovereign grace and divine activity in God the Lord.

Where is the next reference to this grace paradigm?

Deut 9:4-6—"Do not say in your heart when the Lord your God has driven them out before you, ‘Because of my righteousness the Lord has brought me in to possess this land,' but it is because of the wickedness of these nations that the Lord is dispossessing them before you. It is not for your righteousness or for the uprightness of your heart that you are going to possess their land, but it is because of the wickedness of these nations that the Lord your God is driving them out before you, in order to confirm the oath which the Lord swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Know, then, it is not because of your righteousness that the Lord your God is giving you this good land to possess, for you are a stubborn people." Here an act is disqualified as the condition for the "giving" of the Promised Land. This act is even described as an act of "righteousness". Thus, even a "righteous" act of Israel was not the basis or ground of possession of the land of Canaan. In fact, because of their "stiff-necked" "stubbornness" (i.e., their inherent and actual sinfulness; NB: that total depravity and total inability is evident in vv. 7-8 of Deut 9), their so-called "righteousness" was as "filthy rags" (Isa 64:6, KJV) and unworthy of temporal or eternal reward. Hence, any boasting in "righteousness" or claim of "uprightness of heart" as a ground for laying claim to the Promised Land (either now or in the future temporally) is vain and putrid like dung (Phil 3:8, KJV). God sovereignly gives possession of the land to Israel (even as he sovereignly dispossesses them from the land later) out of his favor, his gift, his grace, his promise—not out of merit (temporal or eternal), worthiness, deserving or earning power. Total depravity and total inability in Israel make possession of the Promised Land a gift of divine grace alone with no human merit of any kind involved at all at any point in the whole span of the history of redemption, the Mosaic era included.

Where is the next reference to the grace paradigm in the book of Deuteronomy?

Deut 10:15—"Yet on your fathers did the Lord set his affection to love them, and he chose their descendants after them, even you above all peoples, as it is this day." This verse echoes Deut 7:7 and reiterates God's sovereign grace in choosing or electing a people unto himself in love (cf. Eph 1:4). We are reminded again that sovereign election is grounded in the grace of God's affection for an undeserving people—a people in an estate/condition of total depravity and total inability. They are unable to love God because of their sinful depravity and enmity against him. They are unable to choose God because of their sinful depravity and bondage to willing choices against him and his righteousness. Israel on the plains of Moab is a people by nature totally depraved and totally unable to choose or love God unless he graciously first elects and loves them. Only God's act of electing and loving grace (not Israel's temporal or eternal merit) could bring his gaze of affection upon them. Total depravity and total inability requires sovereign grace—electing love out of God's act not man's demeritorious temporal or eternal acts.
If total depravity and total inability in Israel in the wilderness and on the plains of Moab is pervasive (demeritorious sin affects every aspect of their mind, heart, will and actions), how is it possible for them to even grasp and possess the sovereign grace which is repeatedly declared to be God's prerogative and paradigm alone?
God must give them a heart changed by his electing and loving grace so as to change or transform their hearts which are in a demeritorious and depraved and disabled state/condition by nature.

But Deut 29:4 says—"Yet to this day the Lord has not given you a heart to know, nor eyes to see, nor ears to hear."

If God had not changed their demeritorious hearts of sin and they were unable (because totally disabled) to change their hearts of sin, what hope was there for them?
Deut 10:16 contains the exhortation—in fact, the requirement—that they circumcise their hearts. "Circumcise then your heart, and stiffen your neck no more."

But they are in a state of demerit (temporal and eternal) on account of their sinful, stiff-necked disposition. How are they able to do what God requires?

They are not able on account of their total inability (both temporal and eternal).

Then why does God require of them a condition which they are unable to perform?

This is a very important question and is foundational to understanding divine commands/demands/exhortations and human responses to those divine commands/demands/exhortations.

How can God ask sinners to "circumcise" their hearts when they are unable (on account of their own sinful nature and desires) to circumcise their hearts?

In the same way as Paul can demand or command the Philippian jailer (when he asks, "What must I do to be saved?" Acts 16:30) to "believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved," Acts 16:31.

How does this very important question go back to Augustine (354-430 A.D.) for the correct answer?

Augustine realized his own sinful inability (total inability due to his sinfully depraved heart). But he also recognized God's right to demand of him as a sinner what he as a sinner was obligated (though unable) to do. "You have a right to demand of me that I circumcise my heart. For you are sovereign, Lord, and I owe you what you demand. But since I am unable to do what you require (even though it is right and proper for you to demand it of me), then I ask you to perform in me what you demand of me. By your grace, O Lord, make me able to hear your voice and with a changed heart (by your gracious Holy Spirit) do in me what you command me to do." Augustine's famous slogan was: "command what you will, O Lord, and give [by grace] what you command." Therefore, God has the right to demand that Israel on the plains of Moab circumcise their hearts even though he has not given them the ability (because of total inability) to circumcise their hearts.

But where is the gracious ability God supplies to perform the condition he requires?

Deut 30:6—"the Lord your God will circumcise your heart." The Lord commands that Israel circumcise their hearts, then graciously pledges to give what he commands—he will circumcise their hearts.

But is this not Israel performing a work of righteousness in God's sight, i.e., they do circumcise their hearts?

No, God does it in them, for though commanded to do it, they are unable to perform the condition commanded and thus must rely on sovereign and transforming grace from God to enable them to possess a circumcised heart.

What is a "circumcised heart"?

It is a regenerated heart; a heart born again and cut off from the disabling power of sin and enmity against God and the Lord Jesus Christ by the transforming work of the Holy Spirit.

So when Paul commands the Philippian jailer to believe, that jailer is unable to believe without a new heart of repentance and rebirth.

Yes, and God wonderfully and graciously supplied that heart to the jailer so that he was saved.

The grace paradigm pervades the book of Deuteronomy, not the works-merit paradigm suggested by some today (i.e., Israel at Sinai operates under a "meritorious" covenant in matters temporal, namely her "continuance in the land" of Canaan via her "works" of obedience).

Yes, in all the passages cited above, there is not even a hint of merit in sinners whether that merit be supposed to be temporal or eternal. Some today have suggested that Israel operates under a system of "congruent merit" (a Roman Catholic notion) with respect to temporal blessings in the Promised Land. Such suggestions are insults to the pure, sovereign, sweet and wondrous grace of God to the "fathers", to Israel in Egypt, to Israel at Sinai and to Israel on the plains of Moab. It is always grace alone, never merit in any way or manner whatever in the whole history of redemption. This alone exalts God in his grace and favor, his election and predestination, his gifts of reception and possession (temporal and eternal).

In what sub-paradigm is the grace paradigm embedded?

The rehearsal of the journey paradigm in the "space in between".

What do you mean?

The whole book of Deuteronomy, from beginning to end, is structured as a review of the journey from Egyptian bondage to Canaanite settlement.

Where do you find this, since many others regard Deuteronomy as a suzerainty treaty/covenant paradigm?

That is correct—many evangelicals impose an Ancient Near Eastern (ANE) treaty paradigm upon the contents of Deuteronomy. However, the text of the book does not support this eisegesis.

Please explain.

Let us take the first element of the ANE suzerainty treaty pattern, i.e., the preamble. The preamble in Hittite, Assyrian and other NE treaty documents identifies the suzerain (or lord) making the treaty with the vassal (or subject) whom he has conquered or allied himself. The ANE suzerainty preamble gives the name of the sovereign and (often) some of his honorific titles (cf. Ex 20:2 for a Biblical example: "I am the Lord your God").

Does the book of Deuteronomy open with a preamble?

No, the book opens with a five-verse inclusio (vv. 1 and 5, "across the Jordan").The Lord's name does not appear in the inception, nor are any of his titles provided. (Yes, his name is mentioned in v. 3, but not in first person suzerainty categories.) The person whose name does appear is not the divine covenant making suzerain—it is Moses (vv. 1, 3, 5). Hence, those who label Deut 1:1-5 a treaty or covenant or suzerainty preamble are inventing a label/category which is wholly bogus. Read the text—it has no suzerainty preamble/title(s)!!

The second element in an ANE treaty paradigm is the historical prologue. Explain this please.

It is a description of the past acts of history in which the suzerain lord has benefitted the vassal subject (for a Biblical example, cf. Ex 20:2, "who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage"). The suzerain's past acts of history (historical benevolence) are catalogued as a basis for his right to enter into a treaty covenant with his vassal subject. Deut 1:1-5 has no rehearsal of God's past acts of benevolence (a la Ex 20:2; cf. Deut 5:6). It is, in fact, a report of journey's end ("the fortieth year," v. 3) after the Exodus, the wilderness sojourn and the encampment on the plains of Moab, "across  the Jordan." Read the text—it has no suzerainty historical prologue.

Thus, you are dismissing ANE treaty paradigms as the pattern Moses borrowed to construct the fifth book of the Law.


Well then, what pattern are you proposing for the structure of the fifth book of Moses?

A journey paradigm concluded by a testamentary farewell

Outline this for me.

The book falls into two sections, broadly speaking: chapters 1-28:68 and chapters 29-34:12. Notice the literary markers which inaugurate these two sections: "these are the words" plus "Moses" (1:1); "these are the words" plus "Moses" (29:1). These markers may be labeled anaphoras, i.e., an illustration of recursion (or duplication) marking the beginning of a narrative or literary unit.

What other pattern do you notice in these two narrative/literary units (1:1-28:68; 29:1-34:12)?

The first is more retrospectively focused, rehearsing the forty years of wandering as well as the covenant at Sinai/Horeb.
The second is more prospectively focused, anticipating the crossing over Jordan and settlement of the Promised Land. It too contains a covenant rehearsal—the covenant at Moab (29:1, 9, 12)

What is the journey paradigm?

It is the detailed itinerary given in chapters 1-5 of the sojourn of Israel from Egypt to the "land of Moab . . . across the Jordan" focusing on the covenant at Horeb/Sinai (cf. 29:1) via the anaphora in 1:1. The anaphora of 29:1 focuses on the covenant at Moab as Israel's wilderness journey ends on the Transjordanian side of the Promised Land.

What is the testamentary farewell?

Deut 33—the so-called farewell "blessings" of Moses to Israel

Why do you label it a "testamentary farewell"?

It is a farewell declaration because Moses dies after it is delivered (Deut 34:5-7).
It is a testament because it bequeaths the Lord's gracious blessing (all of grace-faith, none of works-merit) to the heirs of the covenant at Moab according to the election of grace. It takes its place alongside the "farewell testament" genre of the Bible—Gen 49, Josh 24, John 14-17.

This ‘last' word of Moses anticipates the beginning of the new world for the people of God.

Yes, the end of Moses' testament is the beginning of the promise of a land of rest in prospect. And this is true for all the testamentary declarations in Scripture—Jacob's last words are the beginning of endless covenantal promises; Joshua's farewell marks the beginning of an era fraught with the abundance of the promised possession/settlement; Jesus' last words to his disciples are full of the new beginning which the place he has prepared and to which he goes on their behalf is and will be their possession. In each case, the end is as the beginning with the protological coming to pristine eschatological fruition, provisionally and consummately to faith.

What happens to the legal material of Deuteronomy 12-26 on your paradigm?

It too is folded into the protological and eschatological pattern. As it is legislation for the era of the Israelite theocracy, it has a provisional and final aspect. The theocratic era is a provisional reflection of the law of the (eschatological) kingdom of heaven—sin and holiness are antithetical and legally described (respectively) as contrary to and characteristic of the kingdom of heaven. We have previously discussed these patterns in Exodus, Leviticus and Numbers.

Does the Mosaic theocracy project its own end (fulfillment, completion, displacement)?

Yes, in two important texts: the Israelite monarchy replaces the Israelite theocracy (Deut 17:14-20); the eschatological Moses replaces the protological Moses (Deut 18:15).

Please explain.

Consider the death of Moses; as with the author of the theocracy (Moses), the era is destined to pass away. Redemptive-historically, this will occur when it is replaced (in organic continuum) by the Israelite monarchy and then the Israelite exile (586 B.C.) and finally the Israelite revelation of the kingdom of God ushered in by our Lord Jesus Christ. The death of Moses and his entrance into heaven (cf. the Transfiguration) testifies to the impermanence and non-finality of the earthly theocracy he recorded. As with Moses himself, so with the theocracy in him. Something better was prepared for him and for it. He would be gathered to the eschatological theocracy as in the fullness of time Jesus would reveal and bring the eschatological ‘theocracy' ("the kingdom of heaven" has come and is in our midst—a kingdom not of this world, a heavenly theocracy of the Triune God's eternal glory, holiness and grace).

But traditionally, what is described as moral, ceremonial and judicial law is reflected theocratically in the pages of Deuteronomy.

That is correct. What is eternal and perpetual (i.e., the moral Ten Commandments, Deut 5:6-21) is an ethical mirror of the eternal and perpetual moral character of God himself in his heavenly glory-kingdom. It can no more pass away than he can. For example, it is never moral to commit adultery because no (unrepentant) adulterer is present in heaven. Christ himself is the eternally faithful bridegroom of his precious and faithful bride, the church. No other paradigm can exist in their marriage arena.
What is temporal and ephemeral (i.e., ceremonial/sacrificial/ritual law) is designed as type (i.e., typology) and endures until the eternal and eschatological Tabernacle-Temple Sacrifice and Priest performs and finishes his work (i.e., Jesus Christ, eternally begotten Son of God).
What is temporal and political (i.e., the judicial law) is designed for the nation of Israel as a temporary and localized phenomena. When Israel ceased to exist as a redemptive-historical state and politic (certainly by 70 A.D., if not before), these judicial elements ceased as well (except for any residual elements of natural or general equity present in them).

How do you sum up Moses' last book?

It contains a review of the culmination of all his five books—the organic continuum from "the beginning" (4:32) to "the plains of Moab" (34:8). While specifically featuring the history of redemption from the Exodus from Egypt, it carries within it the mirror of the eschatological nature of God's own arena in moral-ethical character (holiness), in vicarious intercessory nearness unto God (ceremonial), in righteous judgment of what is fitting in that eschatological arena (judicial).
It also contains an expectation of "better things" beyond the present—a future passage through the waters and an entrance into a God-granted inheritance land. Even the latter will prove provisional as sinners sin their own exile from it, leaving it in ruins and are scattered abroad looking for (as their protological "Hebrew" did, Gen 14:13) the eschatological city and land whose builder and maker and owner is the Lord (Heb 11:10).
In Christ Jesus, all believers in Christ possess that city, that land, that Triune Lord God because he is the eschatological seed of Abraham; he is the eschatological Passover lamb of God's eschatological Exodus; he is the eschatological sojourner in the land "in between" who obeys perfectly the will of his Father and does not succumb to the Temptations of the wilderness; he is the eschatological law-keeper upon whose heart the moral law of the Ten Commandments is engraved as it is in heaven; he is the eschatological One who passes through the waters dividing the old from the new, the former things from the better things, the protological from the semi-eschatological with the consummately eschatological in view and possession to faith; he is the One greater than Moses whose gospel age is more wonderful that the Mosaic theocracy, whose own sojourn by life, death and resurrection finishes once and for all the sojourn of Moses and the former Israel of God while completely fulfilling the book of Deuteronomy, as well as the "five books of Moses".