The name Deuteronomy means “second law,” but the title in Hebrew is “these are the words.” The latter actually reflects the heart of the book, since it is not really law at all, but covenant. These are the words from God’s heart to yours. The words of Deuteronomy are timeless, and each succeeding generation is to live and remember as if they experienced the Exodus miracles themselves. As a covenant, Deuteronomy highlights first what God has done for His people, and then describes the loving obedience that the people are to respond with in gratitude. Three main themes of Deuteronomy are love, heart, and life.
Love. God is love, and God loves first. Throughout the book of Deuteronomy, God’s love shines clearly. And it is to strike an answering chord of love in the hearts of the people, as they in return “love the Lord” with everything they have and are (Deut. 6:5). The love between God and His people then flows out in love for others, even and especially for those who are vulnerable and oppressed. Because the people understand vulnerability and oppression, as God rescued them from certain death and slavery, they are to live out the power of God’s love toward those in need. God loves the vulnerable and calls His people to love as they have been loved (Deut. 10:18, 19).
Heart. In order to truly love God, one’s heart must be in tune with His. But human hearts are wicked and stubborn, prone to wander and rebel. They need circumcision of the heart to be open to responding to God’s love (Deut. 10:16). The profound message of Deuteronomy is that we cannot even change our own hearts, but God in His great mercy promises to do the circumcision for us (Deut. 30:6). Then His heart’s dream can come true as He grows closer and closer in deep and true relationship with each one of His people. God also promises to put His words in our hearts, making it possible for us to walk in His ways and for Him to bless us (Deut. 30:14–16). And once again, it is when our hearts turn away that we are led into sin and destruction (Deut. 30:17, 18). God wants our hearts; it is all about the heart.
Life. The book of Deuteronomy is life itself, because it is God’s words of love to our hearts. God’s people live “by every word that proceeds from the mouth of the Lord” (Deut. 8:3). And yet, the reason that the Torah is life is that it comes from and points us back to the heart of God. God is life Himself, and calls us to “choose life” (Deut. 30:19)! He does not want anyone to die, but for all to find their “length of days” (ESV) as they “cling” to Him (Deut. 30:20). Unfortunately, Israel quickly forgot to read this book of life. And yet, every time they found and read it again, often after decades or even centuries of neglect, repentance and reformation resulted. This book changes lives, because it leads us to the living God, who is our life!
The importance of this book to the rest of Scripture cannot be overstated. It forms the foundation for all the historical books, as the authors expect the reader to know Deuteronomy in order to accurately judge the actions of each character as right or wrong. The prophets eat and breathe Deuteronomy, as they portray God pulling out all the stops to try and reach His rebellious and utterly wicked people. They alternatively warn people about the impending and increasing curses, and plead with them to return to God and His blessings. In addition, Deuteronomy is wisdom itself, and deeply influences many of the statements in the wisdom literature. Even in the New Testament, Deuteronomy is often quoted or alluded to by Jesus and Paul, forming the center of Jesus’ plea for a response from a heart of love, not legalistic actions. Revelation portrays the final choices that people make between life and death, along with the blessings and curses that result, respectively. Deuteronomy is truly the heart of all Scripture, so it is no wonder that the king was to write his own copy of the book and read from it every day (Deut. 17:18–20). As the king was to be an example to the people, the implication is that each individual should do the same.
So, as you read this book, let God’s love fill your heart with life and joy. Let your heart be opened to new revelations of God’s grace and mercy. Be inspired to tell people about truth and power contained in Deuteronomy. Most of all, fall in love ever more with the Author of Deuteronomy, your Creator and Redeemer, who longs for you to know His heart of love and experience life forever with Him!