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Remembrance in Deuteronomy

Posted by on Mar 24, 2010 in discipleship, scripture | Comments Off

In Deuteronomy, Moses describes the covenant and teaches obedience to God in a narrative framework. In this narrative framework, Moses calls the people to remember what God had done for them and their ancestors. Similarly, the narrative records the journey of Abraham’s children to their present position, east of the Jordan River. This history describes both a physical journey and a spiritual journey. As Waltke explains, “Memory becomes the divine instrument for maintaining the continuity of Israel and for upholding the divine welfare of those within it.”

A. Physical Journey
While the Book of Deuteronomy begins with the children of Israel located in the wilderness on the east side of the Jordan (Deut 1:1). However, within the book, Moses reminds the people that their journey began much earlier in a different place. He called the people to remember that God had promised the land to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Deut 1:8), including the current generation in the promises that God made to the patriarch, and beginning their journey hundreds of years earlier, even before the captivity in Egypt.

As Moses began to retell the people’s story, he begins by reminding them of their suffering while in slavery and how they cried out to God for help (Deut 1:27). The journey continues with God “fighting” for the people in Egypt through the various plagues (Deut 1:30), and specifically against Pharaoh himself (Deut 6:22). God destroyed the army of Pharaoh (Deut 11:4) and led the people out of Egypt toward the land he promised to their ancestors (Deut 2:1). While in the wilderness, God went before the people in the form of a cloud and fire (Deut 1:33), and he provided manna to eat and water to drink (Deut 8:3). Finally, they arrived at the foot of the Mt. Sinai (Deut 4:11). Importantly, many from the current generation—that is, the generation that Moses is speaking to in the Book of Deuteronomy—were not present for this part of the journey. However, Moses calls them to remember this as part of their own history. Moses presents God’s redemption of their parents from slavery and his faithfulness to and provision for their parents while in the desert as happening to this current generation.

The next important step in their history happens at Mt. Sinai, and this frames the majority of the information in the Book of Deuteronomy. At the mountain, God spoke to the people (Deut 4:13), but the people asked Moses to speak with God on their behalf (Deut 5:27). Even as Moses received the law from God (Deut 5:31), the people rebelled by forming and worshiping an idol (Deut 9:16). After Moses entreated the Lord on behalf of the people, they continued their journey to the Jordan River. However, the people refused to obey the Lord, and instead listened to the concerns of the spies (Deut 1:32). God determined that none of that generation would cross over into the promised land, so everyone under the age of twenty died in the wilderness (Deut 1:35). When God decided that they had travelled around the wilderness long enough, he instructed Moses to turn back toward the Jordan (Deut 2:3). God protected the people against Shihon, king of Heshbon (Deut 2:30), and Og, king of Bashan (Deut 3:1).

However, the journey does not end at the Jordan River for this people. Though the narrative begins and ends on the banks of the River, Moses directs the people to continue their physical journey. They are to cross the Jordan and take possession of all the land that God had promised to them through their ancestors (Deut 9:1). Furthermore, after they cross over the Jordan, the people are to assemble on Mount Gerizim and Mount Ebal in order to remember what Moses taught them and what God had done for them (Deut 27:12-13). Once they are settled in the land, the people are to begin sacrificing in the place that God chooses (Deut 12:5).

B. Spiritual Journey
This people’s journey was not merely a physical journey. Instead, the reminder of the physical journey also brought to mind their spiritual journey. Moses reminds the people of their journey from Egypt to the Jordan, and also reminds them of their record of disobedience toward God. While they obeyed on occasion, they primarily disobeyed, represented by creating images to worship (Deut 9:12) and failing to enter the promised land as directed (Deut 1:32-33). While there were spiritual high points and low points on the physical journey from Egypt to Jordan, according to Moses, the spiritual future of the people does not appear hopeful. Instead, he warns them that they will disobey God, and that they will face the consequences. “Much of the book [Deuteronomy] is devoted to explaining that even God’s people are intrinsically sinful, and the inevitability of their moral failure. Despite all that God has done for his people, they will surely disobey.”

C. Remembrance
Moses did not remind the people of their physical and spiritual journeys simply for the benefit of their memory. Instead, the remembrance was to lead them toward obedience and away from disobedience. When dealing with leprosy, they were supposed to remember how God dealt with Miriam, which would then lead them to obey God (Deut 24:9). When dealing with foreigners and strangers, they people were supposed to remember how God brought them out of Egypt, which would encourage them to obey God is offering justice and mercy (Deut 24.18). By remembering how Amalek treated the people on their physical journey out of Egypt and to the Jordan, Moses exhorts the people to obey God in destroying the Amalekites (Deut 25:17-19). Furthermore, Moses’ speeches to the people would not be the last reminders. Instead, the people are instructed to read the law again every three years so that they will not forget what God had done and would instead be reminded to obey him (Deut 31:9-13).

Remembering exhorts the people toward more than obedience. By remembering what had happened to them on their journey from Egypt, the people are also exhorted to trust God for protection and provision. For instance, the people are reminded that God protected them and led them to victory against King Sihon (Deut 2:26-27) and King Og (Deut 3:1-22). Also, by remembering the forty year journey through the wilderness, the people are reminded that God will take care of them and provide for their needs (Deut 8:1-20). The physical journey also reminds them of the covenant that God made with them through Moses (Deut 5:1-33).

Finally, by remembering the physical journey from Egypt, the people are warned against disobedience. When the people remembered their past disobedience, the reminder would exhort them toward obedience. They would remember how they rebelled against God in creating the golden calves while God was given Moses the law, which would encourage them to stay away from idolatry (Deut 9:12). They would also remember how they had refused to go into the promised land the first time and how God had forced them to wander in the wilderness for forty years (Deut 1:19-33). This remembrance would encourage them to trust God.

Thus, Moses reminds the people of their physical and spiritual journey—from Egypt to the Jordan, and through obedience and disobedience—in order to teach the people. Through the journey narratives, the people learn the importance of obeying God and trusting in him. Furthermore, they are encouraged not to disobey, and warned of the consequences of future disobedience.