I’ve read Deuteronomy a number of times and have typically enjoyed it, including the laws.  I see it in God’s care and protection of his people, especially the vulnerable.  And while at first blush we see some of the laws as uncomfortable, when we put them in historical context we see God’s loving-kindness.

But this time I worked through Deuteronomy I saw something that I hadn’t before that really amazed me.  But before I get to that, let me walk through the highlights of what Deuteronomy teaches us.

What We Learn in Deuteronomy

1) The Law was for our good to have health and fulfillment in relationships.  We cannot trust ourselves to know what is best, but we must trust the Lord, our God and our Maker, the one who designed us, to know what is best.

2) Man’s heart seems to always be straying.  And yet there are those who lead the way, who walk in righteous and lead others in righteous.  God calls all of us to be this way.

Furthermore when we wander, he invited repentance.  But he is also not a push-over God.  Acts of evil will need to be dealt with.

3) We are forgetful people.  We need the Ten Commandments and the stone pillars and the reading of the Law regularly to remember the ways of God.  And the Israelites needed the Passover feasts and we need Christmas and Resurrection Days to remember all that Jesus has done.  It’s also easy to forget God in prosperity.

4) God HATES the sin of idolatry and the sin of sexual immorality.  These are look sore points for him.  The sin of idolatry was not just that they were serving other gods, but that they sacrificed babies and “encouraged” sin with temple prostitutes.

And also the sin of sexual immorality in general.  It comes up often and is a desecration of the holiness that God has put in us.  Over and over and over and over the Lord brings these two sins up.

5) God created a system where all would have opportunity to be care or and no one needed to stay poor.  There was the tithes that went to those in ministry, the tithe every third year that went to the fatherless and the widow, one could work for another Hebrew as a servant for seven years.

Additionally grain and produce were to be left in the field for the hungry to gather (work) and eat, interest-free loans for the poor were encouraged among one another, and every seven years all debt was cancelled.  That allowed for a redo for those whose finances had gotten away from them.

6) Rest was important.  Every seven days there was to be a period of rest.  There were also times of national gathering and celebration of the goodness of the Lord where people were told to invest money into (the tithe).

7)  Sin defiled the land.  It wasn’t just about wronging one another but it literally defiled the land.  And the Lord made ways for the land to be cleansed.

The Surprise of Deuteronomy

And now, here is what stood out to me more than any other time I read Deuteronomy:

8)  God wants us to be obedient to the laws because he wants to have joy, to celebrate, to rejoice, and to enjoy life fully.

We think of the Old Testament sometimes as heavy and a bunch of rules.  But when you read Deuteronomy, over and over and over you see that the Lord wanted them to be free to rejoice, and that freedom came through obedience.    Just look at this list!

Deuteronomy 12:7
There, in the presence of the Lord your God, you and your families shall eat and shall rejoice in everything you have put your hand to, because the Lord your God has blessed you.
Deuteronomy 12:12And there rejoice before the Lord your God—you, your sons and daughters, your male and female servants, and the Levites from your towns who have no allotment or inheritance of their own.
Instead, you are to eat them in the presence of the Lord your God at the place the Lord your God will choose—you, your sons and daughters, your male and female servants, and the Levites from your towns—and you are to rejoice before the Lord your God in everything you put your hand to.
Use the silver to buy whatever you like: cattle, sheep, wine or other fermented drink, or anything you wish. Then you and your household shall eat there in the presence of the Lord your God and rejoice.
And rejoice before the Lord your God at the place he will choose as a dwelling for his Name—you, your sons and daughters, your male and female servants, the Levites in your towns, and the foreigners, the fatherless and the widows living among you.
Deuteronomy 16:14
Be joyful at your festival—you, your sons and daughters, your male and female servants, and the Levites, the foreigners, the fatherless and the widows who live in your towns.

For seven days celebrate the festival to the Lord your God at the place the Lord will choose. For the Lord your God will bless you in all your harvest and in all the work of your hands, and your joy will be complete.
Deuteronomy 26:11
Then you and the Levites and the foreigners residing among you shall rejoice in all the good things the Lord your God has given to you and your household.
Because you did not serve the Lord your God joyfully and gladly in the time of prosperity,
Rejoice, you nations, with his people, for he will avenge the blood of his servants; he will take vengeance on his enemies and make atonement for his land and people.

Deuteronomy, a Book of Joy?

We think of Philippians as the book of joy in the New Testament, and perhaps Psalms in the Old Testament, but Deuteronomy?  With all it’s rules and regulations and laws?
The truth is that joy comes from full surrender.  Think of it this way:
  • If you want to have joy  in playing the piano, guitar or other instrument, you first have to surrender to the “laws” of learning chords, patterns, basic music theory and more
  • For a dog to have the joy of being let off the leash at the park, it first must be surrendered to its master, coming when it is called and responding to commands and submitted.  If the dog is unruly, defiant, doesn’t listen, the dog-owner will never let it go free as it will need a leash
  • For an athlete to have the joy of victory, they must surrender themselves to the “laws” of physical fitness–getting stronger, growing in endurance, training in fundamentals, etc..  It’s only when they perfect that do they have the joy of competition and victory.

It’s feels like strange but it isn’t.  To have joy and freedom we must first be surrendered to the laws, and in this case, it is the law of life.

This is the message of Deuteronomy.

Joy awaits.