Tuesday, 15 July 2003

The fifth book of the Torah is Deuteronomy. This is a strange-looking English word. In fact, it is not an English word, being made up of two Greek words. The first is 'deutero' which means 'second' and 'nomos' which means 'law'. Taken together, deuteronomy is, as you guessed, 'second law'. This is the attempt by the Greek-speaking Jews to give a name which would sum up the contents of the whole book. The fifth book of the Torah is basically the repetition of the laws given by Moses to the new generation of God's people. The first generation had listened to the Law from Mount Sinai but they had disbelieved in it, ending up wandering in the wilderness for 38 years and eventually dying one by one in the desert sands, all except Moses, Joshua and Caleb.

The children of that disbelieving generation had grown up and have taken on the position of their parents. But they needed to hear the law for themselves. So Moses gathered them at the Plains of Moab, overlooking the Promised Land. In sight of the land, Moses repeated the laws once given to their parents to the new generation. Thus, the compound word 'deuteronomy' is an adequate word to describe the thrust of the book. Initially, the word was a mistranslation of Deut. 17:18 (...he shall write for himself a copy of the law). Happily, the miscontrued word still serves as an apt title to this fifth book of the Torah.

Framed as three farewell speeches, Moses taught the new generation all the laws that will govern them as they entered the Promised Land. The laws are given to the 'you' (singular) which represented the nation as a whole. These laws are humanitarian in outlook as they dealt with the person-to-person level (horizontal level fo relationships). When the relationships between persons are right, they will be able to live long in the land. Some of these laws in Deuteronomy have found their way into many of the laws of the western nations. Thus, when we read the laws in Deuteronomy, they can vaguely seem familiar.

The books ends with Moses' Song (chap. 32), his Blessing on the 12 tribes (chap. 33) and the account of his death (chap. 34). The last chapter obviously was written by someone else than Moses. The story of Moses' death not only sums up the book of Deuteronomy but the Torah as well. What started with the creation of the universe, humankind and the calling of Abraham, the founder of the nation of Israel, ends with the story of Israel's deliverer and supreme law-giver, Moses. Taken together, these 5 books give us a panaromic view of the salvation history of God through the nation of Israel.