Deuteronomy 16-20; Psalm 119:145-152

Moses covers a variegated landscape of ideas in Deuteronomy. But the necessity of heeding God’s instructions is never far from view. Moses instructed Israel to remember the Lord through special worship events (Deut 16:1-17). The festival of Passover (Deut 16:1-8), the festival of Weeks (Deut 16:9-12), and the festival of Booths (Deut 16:13-17) were each calculated for annual observance so that all Israelite males would come before the Lord three times a year to present offerings according to their resources (Deut 16:16-17).

Principles of justice, Moses urged, were to govern relationships among Israelites (Deut 16:18-17:20). The judges’ work included both sentencing any prone to idolatry (Deut 16:21-17:7) and executing any who rebelled against a verdict (Deut 17:8-13). Moses predicted that God’s people would one day grow dissatisfied with being governed by judges. Deuteronomy 17 introduces what would later be described in the historical books of Israel. The nation was ruled by judicial figures until their desire to be like other nations prompted them to desire a king (Deut 17:14-20; see 1 Samuel 8). Under the rule of the judiciary, Moses forbade the people from taking vengeance arbitrarily—a principle underlying cities of refuge (Deut 19:1-15) and courtroom procedures (Deut 19:15-21). That tribal allotments could be sandwiched into the midst of this discussion (Deut 19:14) may further accentuate the fact that the Promised Land was to be a place of justice. It was just for Israel to provide for the Levites, since they had no portion in the Land (Deut 18:1-8)

And it was just for Israel to maintain covenantal purity as they related corporately with the nations around them. Moses exhorted the people to abstain from Canaanite religion (Deut 18:9-14) and devote themselves to the genuine prophetic word (Deut 18:15-22). Israel would show loyalty to God by being vigorous in conquest (Deut 20:1-20). Israel’s strength was a humble reliance upon the Lord (Deut 20:1-4). Men who were distracted or fainthearted were to abstain from battle (Deut 20:5-9). Cities were to be engaged according to their willingness to fight (Deut 20:10-18). Israel was to be a good steward of natural resources since they had to live in the land after their enemies were deposed (Deut 20:19-20).

Moses’ statements in Deuteronomy 16-20 form a how-to manual for Israelite success in Canaan. The writers of the New Testament saw in Moses’ instructions a basis for understanding the coming of Christ and how His followers should live.

(1) In Deut 18:15, Moses prophesied that, “The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own brothers. You must listen to him.” At two points in the book of Acts—during Peter’s sermon in Solomon’s Colonnade (Acts 3:22) and during Stephen’s defense (Acts 7:37)—speakers identified that Moses referred explicitly to Jesus Christ. It was Jesus’ coming and His message that Peter and Stephen respectively urged their audiences to heed.

(2) In 1 Cor 5:13 Paul quoted Deut 17:7, “Put away the evil person from among yourselves.” Moses commanded legal proceedings which would have the effect of cleansing Israel from her idolatrous tendencies; as idolaters were executed, the land would be cleansed. Paul saw in Moses’ statement a word applicable to the sexual license of the Corinthians—who had not only allowed but even applauded a man who was having relations with his stepmother (1 Cor 5:1). Paul wanted the Corinthians to get their house in order and excommunicate the arrogant man.

(3) In Deut 19:15, Moses commanded that during legal procedures, “One witness cannot establish any wrongdoing or sin against a person, whatever that person has done. A fact must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.” Both Jesus and Paul saw Moses’ instruction as valid for how believers should handle accusations of wrongdoing within the church—even when leaders are accused of sin (Matt 18:16; 1 Tim 5:19-21).

(4) In Deut 19:21, Moses commanded that in legal procedures there be no favoritism, partiality, or leniency, but rather, “life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, and foot for foot.” In Matt 5:38 Jesus urged His followers that the standard of perfect righteousness—that which was concomitant with His kingdom—demand that they go beyond Moses’ words, saying, “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye’ and ‘a tooth for a tooth.’ But I tell you, don’t resist an evildoer. On the contrary if anyone slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also” (Matt 5:38-39).