FBT – Second Giving of the Law

June 7, 2008

Deuteronomy is a keystone in the arch of Biblical theology. Literally meaning a "second recitation of the law," to understand this book is to understand the standards Christ sought to raise. Jesus said "think not that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets, I have come to fulfill them; not one jot or tittle will pass away until all is fulfilled. Anyone who relaxes on the least of these commandments will be considered the least in the Kingdom of God," so all remains in effect unless He specifically and explicitly gives dispensation.

Before entering the text proper, we consider the many theological points that Deuteronomy establishes. First is a theology of words: God’s words matter. Next, Deuteronomy contains a theology of memory: we would do well to reflect on all that God has done for His people. The story of Israel then becomes our own history: as we enter into these memories we are obligated to pass them on to each generation. The Church continues these Jewish traditions of word and memory in her liturgy. To illustrate, the priest stands on the altar as another Christ speaking to us, His disciples. Because God is beyond time, the raising of palms on Palm Sunday is both a remembrance of and a sharing in Christ’s entrance celebration at Jerusalem.

Deuteronomy establishes categories that represent something timeless in man and his condition that point us to principles, ideas and objective things in our salvation experience. One might consider this a theology of "types." In the words of Fr. Paul Quay, SJ, ‘we are all fated to relive the Old Testament,’ so we should read the script and strive to live our parts faithfully.

A theology of community, key to the divine intention, gives man meaning. All fell with Adam; all were redeemed in Christ’s saving act: God calls us to be a corporate people without removing individual responsibilities.

God’s sovereignty and His sovereign choice are key to understanding Deuteronomy. He is supreme, one, Lord of all, and He chooses His people for salvation and consecration. We are called to come into the presence of the living God – let us not delay. The promises of Deuteronomy also imply an even greater grace that is only fulfilled after Christ in Baptism.

God’s call requires a response: holiness. The only faithful responses to God’s call are to either to trust Him or to seek clarification on how to trust Him. All else is sin and borders on breaking the tenet, "Do not put the Lord your God to the test" (Deut 6:16). Israel all-too-often wanted their God to jump through hoops for them. They required constant "perks" and were ready to call everything off if they did not get their way immediately and in full. How foolish are we to still act as they did, we who have so many graces from Christ! Jesus recapitulated their 40-year sojourn in his 40-day fast in the desert. The devil’s three temptations there were significant, especially when he asked Jesus to disobey Deuteronomy 6:16.

Finally, theologies of obedience and love also emerge from the text. We are called to give ourselves freely, fully and faithfully to God and to our people.

The Book of Deuteronomy begins with Moses giving the people a historical prologue for all the people about their journey from Sinai (Horeb) to the attempted mutiny of Moses at Kadesh which is essentially a rebellion against the Lord. Moses also accounts the other rebellions where tens of thousands die, and also their victories over Sihon and Og.

Music: Grieg’s "Piano Concerto in A Minor, Op. 16" performed by the Skidmore College Orchestra. www.musopen.com

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