Deuteronomy’s Doctrine of God – Alex Stephenson

Jesus quoted from the book of Deuteronomy often in his earthly ministry. Whether it was combating temptation from the devil (Lk. 4:4, 8, 12), responding to a testing question (Mk. 12:29-31), or instructing his disciples (Mt. 18:16), Jesus utilised Deuteronomy. Jesus’ love for Deuteronomy is an example which we, as his disciples, should follow.

Deuteronomy is set not long before the conquest of the promised land. As the people of Israel stand on the plains of Moab, Moses reflects upon the failure of a previous generation, while calling a new generation to renew the covenant that was given to them at Sinai. The term ‘covenant’ originates in the Ancient Near East where a powerful nation, known as the suzerain, makes a solemn treaty with a weaker nation, the vassal, on the grounds of mutually agreed stipulations. This motif permeates the entirety of Deuteronomy as the divine suzerain, Yahweh, makes a covenant with his chosen people, Israel.


The Unique King: Yahweh

The God of Deuteronomy is the great king, Yahweh. He is the living God who dwells in heaven. All creation comes from him. All nations belong to him. ‘Behold, to the LORD your God belong heaven and the heaven of heavens, the earth with all that is in it’ (10:14). As transcendent, God has all power. By his outstretched arm, he shows that he is ‘God of gods and Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God’ (10:17). The prerogative is his. God alone has sovereignty over the nations and the course of history. He is truly the unique king.

If we take a step back, we notice at this time the people of Israel were surrounded by nations such as Egypt and Canaan. These nations were renowned for their polytheistic beliefs. Against this backdrop, Deuteronomy presents the God of Israel as the only God. Known to Jewish tradition as the Shema, Deuteronomy 6:4 declares: ‘Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one’. This is not just a confession of monotheism but truly a confession of the uniqueness of Yahweh. He is incomparable; there is no other. The LORD alone is worthy of all worship, praise and adoration.

As Christians, we are sometimes careful about affirming truths in the Old Testament as our own. Whether out of fear of misinterpretation or misapplication, we are hesitant. What Deuteronomy teaches us, however, is that God is eternal and unchanging in his character. Therefore, in Christ Jesus, we can declare Deuteronomy 6:4 as our creed. Consider starting each day by reciting Deuteronomy 6:4. Allow this expression of truth to remind you in the day ahead that whatever trial or temptation you may face, Yahweh is greater. He is the Most High and nothing compares to him. As Christians, we are called to love the LORD our God with all our heart and with all our soul and with all our might (6:5). He is a jealous God and a consuming fire; therefore, we are to fear and serve him alone (4:24; 6:13-15).


Divine Revelation Through A Covenant Relationship

Deuteronomy not only portrays God as transcendent but also as immanent. As the unique king, he has entered into a covenant relationship with a chosen people, Israel. This covenant was not earned or deserved by Israel, rather it was initiated out of love by the sovereign king (7:6-8). Deuteronomy presents divine revelation through a covenant relationship. In other words, as we meditate upon this covenant relationship we learn much about the doctrine of God.

As you read Deuteronomy you will notice a recurring phrase: ‘the land that the LORD, the God of your fathers, has given to you to possess’ (1:8, 6:10, 12:1). What Moses refers to is the Abrahamic covenant in which God promised to make of Abraham a great nation and bring them into a land. As the people of Israel stand on the verge of possessing this land, Moses reminds them that God is ‘the faithful God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him’ (7:9). This declaration is confirmed across the book as God is presented as the nation’s redeemer (5:15), warrior (3:21-22), and rock (32:4). He may discipline his people or test them by bringing a false prophet into their midst; nonetheless, he is a merciful God (4:31).

Perhaps the most well-known section of Deuteronomy is the record of the 10 commandments given to Moses on Mount Sinai (Ch. 5). We must look behind the law and see the lawgiver because all the laws are an expression of who God is. They exclaim to us that God is good and cares for his people. They remind us that God is holy and cannot tolerate sin. They testify that God is righteous and executes justice.

Recently I came across an article which said that “1 out of every 45 people will be affected by a humanitarian crisis in 2020”. Whether or not that is factual, there is truth in the statement. We live in an age when people all around us need help and justice. This has come to light forcibly with the recent Covid-19 pandemic. Deuteronomy offers a response: present the truth of God. He ‘executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing’ (10:18). Deuteronomy shows us that to genuinely love our neighbour we must first understand God’s love for us in Christ Jesus. Indeed, the greatest commandment is this (Mt. 22:34-40).


A Personal Pledge

The book of Deuteronomy reveals much about the doctrine of God. As we reflect upon this covenant renewal on the plains of Moab, we should pledge afresh to know God more in the twenty-first century. Craigie’s words provide an appropriate incentive:

“It is not possible to summarize all the details of the theology of Deuteronomy in an adequate way; the full riches of the theological thought of the book will emerge from a careful reading of the text[1].

Therefore, as disciples of Jesus, let us follow the founder and perfecter of our faith in cherishing the book of Deuteronomy. Let us all delight in Deuteronomy and love the LORD our God. New Christians read it! Mature Christians study it! Colleges teach it! Pastors preach it! Missionaries proclaim it!


This article was written by Alex Stephenson and was originally published in Insight, the magazine of the Association of Baptist Churches in Ireland

[1]   P. Craigie, The Book of Deuteronomy, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1976), p.36.