Where Is the Gospel amidst the Laws of Deuteronomy?
I have quite a few books in my office. I’ll admit that some of them I have never read. A few of them, I’ve read more than once. One of the books that has garnered multiple reads is The Bruised Reed by Richard Sibbes. It’s one of my favorite books and I keep going back to that book time and time again. I think you could put Life Together by Dietrich Bonhoeffer as another that I’ve read often and quoted frequently.
If I quote a book often, it’s pretty safe to assume that I consider it an important work. That’s not to mean that others aren’t important — but it must mean that there is something about this book that holds a special place in my heart.
Any idea what Old Testament book is the most quoted by Jesus?
Honestly, before I knew the answer, my guess was the Psalms. I bet you got it correctly, though, because you read the title of the article. It’s the book of Deuteronomy. It’s quoted by Jesus more than any other book in the Old Testament. Why? Are there good connections to the gospel found in Deuteronomy?
How Do You Find the Gospel in the Old Testament?
I suppose before understanding how to find the gospel in the OT, it’d be helpful for us to define the gospel. The simplest definition is one given by JI Packer: God saves sinners. If you’d like to put a bit more meat on your gospel presentation, I use two different frameworks with four points each. The first is God—Man—Christ—Response. The second is more of a story: Creation—Fall—Redemption—Glory.
The first presentation centers upon God’s character and how humanity fails to meet God’s holy standard, as such the judgment of God is upon us. But the good news is that Jesus Christ fixes this by fulfilling what is required through his life, death and resurrection. Our only fitting response, then, is to respond to Him in repentance and faith. When this happens, we are united to Christ and his record becomes our record.
The second presentation centers upon the overarching story of the Bible. God lovingly created us to love Him and enjoy Him forever. We were made for rest, rule, and relationship. But we made shipwreck of this, and so rather than having the blessings of obedience we are under the curse of disobedience. Rather than having peace (rest), purpose (ruling), and healthy relationship, we often experience the opposite. Ultimately, we are alienated from God. But thankfully God sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to bear our curse and to fulfill what God intended for humanity. As such we now experience the blessings of Jesus’ obedience in our place. He restores the rest, rule, and relationship we were created to enjoy. Someday everything will be ultimately restored and we will live in a new heaven and a new earth.
We could write entire books focusing on these various themes of the gospel. But every gospel story follows this basic skeleton. No matter where you find yourself in the Old Testament (or the New Testament) you can find one of these various threads. Every place in Scripture is either telling you something about God, something about our rebellion, something about His rescue, or something about our future restoration. If you can spot this, then you can fill out the rest of the story.
How Do We Find the Gospel in Deuteronomy?
Deuteronomy is such a strange word. I’ll confess that half the time when I write out the word, I get those red squiggly lines in my Word document. What does Deuteronomy even mean? The name itself comes from Greek for “second law.”
When you hear “second law” you might be thinking of Mel Brooks’ History of the World, where Moses accidentally drops one of the tablets. Or you might be thinking of Moses’ smashing the tablets in Exodus 32. Is that what is happening in Deuteronomy? Is this the second giving of the law because the first one didn’t take?
Actually, this isn’t the second giving of the law as much as it is Moses before his death, standing at the foot of the Promised Land, giving instruction to a new generation about to enter into the promise which he himself had forfeited. Some have seen it in the form of a treaty. It is a reminder of the covenant that God has with his people.
Yes, Deuteronomy is filled with laws — but it is also book-ended by grace. It begins with a reminder as to why they are entering into the promised land and it ends with a promise of God’s gracious dealing with Israel in the future. Grace surrounds the law.
This is why William Tyndale called this book, “easy also and light and a very pure gospel.” The laws that we read in Deuteronomy flow out of God’s covenant acceptance. They don’t obey the law in order to be accepted — they obey the law because they are already accepted.
God made humanity for rest, rule, and relationship. We squandered all of these. Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers shows our sad plight. A continual story of God’s rescue and our ruin. But here in Deuteronomy the people are at the foot of the Promised Land. Will this be the end of the story? Will this be where they finally get it?
We see in Dt. 27-28 a picture of blessings and curses. A blessing for obedience — that they will remain in the land. But also curses for disobedience and breaking the covenant — a promise that if they disobey the covenant then all of these curses, like being booted from the land, will fall upon their head. Will they finally get it?
It’s interesting what Moses says at the beginning of Dt. 30,
“And when all these things come upon you, the blessing and the curse, which I have set before you, and you call them to mind among all the nations where the Lord your God has driven you.”
He is predicting that they will experience both blessing and curse of the covenant. He knows they won’t keep their end of the bargain. They will be covenant-breakers and the curse will fall upon them. This is the sad story of humanity and it is precisely what happened during the exile. The people would choose death. This is why Moses said that God would “raise up for you a prophet like me from among you” and this prophet would do what Moses couldn’t. He would finally change the heart of the people.
Jesus is a fulfillment of Deuteronomy. He and he alone fulfills the law, which means that he receives all of the blessings while the rest of humanity receives the curse. When he is in the wilderness being tested, Jesus quoted Deuteronomy. This was the bread which he lived upon. Jesus knew that His obedience to the Father would lead to the blessings of Deuteronomy.
But alas, he would not only receive the blessings. He would also endure the curse of the covenant on our behalf. This is what Paul argues in Galatians. Jesus takes the curse for us and gives to us the blessing which He inherited.
Deuteronomy points to Jesus in that He is a fulfillment of every jot and tittle found therein. And when we are united to Christ, we inherit not only the provision for our sin, but also His positive righteousness. Thus, we remain blessed instead of cursed. Only through Jesus is this possible.
How Do We Find the Gospel in Deuteronomy 19:1-13?
There are a few places in the book of Deuteronomy that might lend themselves to an easy line to the gospel. But I find it helpful sometimes to randomly light upon a passage within the Old Testament, read up on the surrounding context, and try to figure out how I would proclaim the gospel from this text. It all points to Jesus. So, how does Dt. 19:1-13 display Jesus?
This passage is all about blood revenge. Immediately we know that we are talking about something that is not a picture of Eden, but life outside of Eden. This will be a prescription for us because of our hardness of heart and because of both our finitude and rebellion. In other words, there shouldn’t have to be a law like this.
In the new heaven and the new earth there will not be a law about blood revenge. This is the stuff for broken people in a broken world. But that is where we are until we are finally and fully redeemed. So, how does this provision point to Jesus?
Mistakes happen. Sometimes really bad mistakes happen and innocent life is taken. In those moments we can be tempted to take the life of the person who unintentionally took the life of another. But this would only be perpetuating the curse. Instead, God calls upon the people to establish within the Promised Land cities of refuge, places where a manslayer can go to be protected from one trying to avenge blood.
Where do you go when you blow it? You go to a city of refuge. And here you find hope and help. In the book of Hebrews, it speaks of “those who have fled for refuge” into Christ. And that they would “hold fast to the hope set before us.” Christ is that city of refuge. He is the protection from our guilt.
But there is one massive difference between the two. In the Old Testament you fled to a city of refuge when your murder was unintentional. If you were actually guilty of crime, the sanctuary city would be of no help to you. You had to be innocent, and not guilty of intentionally shedding innocent blood. The refuge of Christ is different. Sinners gather here, not just those who accidentally had the head of an axe decapitate your neighbor.
There is another connection as well. If one refused to flee to a city of refuge then the avenger was free to spill their blood. If you don’t flee for refuge, then the protection offered does you no good. The same is true today. Christ is our refuge. If we don’t take Him up as our protection, then it does us no good.
In his exposition on Psalm 62, Dave Griffith-Jones says these words about Christ our Refuge:
“But wonderfully, this same psalm tells us to take refuge from Christ by taking refuge in Christ. We’re saved from his wrath not by running away from him (which is impossible—it’s hard to outrun the omnipresent God), but by running to him: ‘Blessed are all who take refuge in him’ (v12). Christ became our refuge on the cross. When the Son of God died, the wrath of God ‘flared up’ and consumed him, so that it need not consume us.” (Griffith-Jones, Escaping Escapism, 48)
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