The Best Things in Deuteronomy-Part 2 of 5

To read part one, click here

Before we continue looking at Deuteronomy, it might be helpful to take a moment to look at some of the keys to effectively teaching through this book.

1) Get your people to read Deuteronomy. I imagine the most common error of Bible teachers and pastors is to teach something no one has read. If you begin expounding a text not already in the minds of the people, not much is going to happen beyond wasting your valuable time. We recommend encouraging your church or Sunday school class to read the entire book, all 34 chapters, several times over the two weeks prior to starting a study. Then, during the session, before you begin teaching, read the portion under consideration to the class. Only then will they be ready to listen to God's Word and your teaching.

2) Be careful of detours and side excursions. A book as broad and as deep as Deuteronomy lends itself to side trips at every point. Take the Ten Commandments in chapter 5. Everyone in the class has an opinion as to their worth, and almost everyone has a question about their relevance. If you begin teaching this chapter without a plan for covering the material and getting on to the next chapter, your audience will hijack the schedule and you'll not come up for air for the rest of the time.

3) Plan where you wish to spend considerable time. Deuteronomy 6 is as good a place as you will find. The "Shema" of 6:4-5 is easily the high point of this book's teachings, as it introduces us to what our Lord called the Greatest Commandment (see Matthew 22:34-40). That is followed by teachings on how to burn this instruction into the hearts of your people. Then, you'll not want to leave this without moving to the New Testament for its references to this.

4) Find a way to involve your people. Sitting in a classroom listening to someone talk for a long time is not always an effective way to learn something, particularly God's Word. I suggest you pray intensely in advance for the Holy Spirit to prepare your people for the study and to call to your mind individuals with helpful contributions to the teaching. If you have people with excellent teaching skills, assign them (in advance) a subject to study which they will report on during the session. These should be brief, not more than 5 minutes, and add to, not detract from, the overall flow of the study. Participation is good, but the teacher must not let the session become merely a discussion. You have a lot of material to cover.

On with the next segment of "The Best Things in Deuteronomy:"

VI. The Greatest Commandment-Chapter 6
I love finding passages that were favorites of our Lord Jesus. It's a little like we are walking in His footprints. When they asked Him to identify the greatest commandment, the fellow asking probably expected to hear one of the "Ten Words" named. Instead, Jesus gave him Deuteronomy 6:4-5. "Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God; the Lord is One. Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, with all thy soul, and with all thy strength." And the second greatest commandment, Jesus said, is a lot like that one (Matthew 22:34-40). I love this. Jesus was not going to let the Pharisees off with a vertical commandment (God and me) that omitted any obligation to fellow humans. We in our day know all too well how some want to make their Christian faith "just Jesus and me." As the country ditty puts it, "Me and Jesus got our own thing going." This will not be allowed.

For the second greatest command, Jesus quotes from an obscure passage, the 19th chapter of Leviticus. Intermingled in its casserole of commands are several golden nuggets in which God commands Israel to honor the foreigners in their midst and to treat their neighbors with respect. Verses 18 and 34 actually say, "You shall love him as yourself." That's about the ultimate respect.

VII. The Importance of Remembering-6:10-12, etc.
When you settle in the Promised Land and find everything just sitting there waiting for you-cities you did not plan, crops you did not plant, houses you did not build, when you have eaten all the delicacies of the land and your bellies are full-when that happens, beware lest you forget the Lord.

That's how it happens. People seek the Lord desperately in tough times, but then when life smoothes out and they're no longer in need, God is the farthest thing from their minds. He was a "very present help in time of need," but they will have to learn a whole new set of reasons to serve Him now that Papa has found work in the city and the money is pouring in. Paul's words in Philippians 4:10-14 fit here.

A classmate of mine did his doctoral dissertation on the Hebrew word zakar, "remember". It's prominent throughout the Old Testament. Check out Deuteronomy chapter 8. "Remember that the Lord your God led you on the entire journey these 40 years" (8:2). "Do not forget the Lord your God" (8:11). "Be careful that your heart does not become proud and you forget the Lord your God" (8:14). Look also at verses 18 and 19, and much of the rest of this book. We forget so easily. In fact, we forget what we ought to remember and hang onto what we should have turned loose of. Israel in the wilderness remembered the silliest little pleasures of Egypt (Numbers 11:5) while forgetting all about the cruelties of the slavery.

"Do this in remembrance of me," our Lord instructed His people (Luke 22:19). He gave baptism and the Lord's Supper in order to keep before believers for all time the twin great facts of the Lord's death and His resurrection. The ordinances are the church's ultimate mnemonic devices. After listing a number of Christian character traits, the Apostle Peter concluded, "If these qualities are yours and are increasing, they will keep you from being useless or unfruitful. But the person who lacks these things is blind and shortsighted, and has forgotten that he was cleansed from his past sins" (2 Peter 1:3-9).

We must never forget. The best way to keep from forgetting something is to keep talking about it. "Repeat [these words] to your children. Talk about them when you sit in your house and when you walk along the road" (Deut. 6:6 ff.). Write them on posters to hang on the wall. Keep it before you. The best way I know to remember something is to work at remembering it.

VII. The Eternal Emphasis on Obedience-5:32-33, Etc.
"Be careful to do as the Lord your God has commanded you; you are not to turn aside to the right or the left. Follow the whole instruction the Lord your God has commanded you, so that you may live, prosper, and have a long life in the land you will possess." How often in Deuteronomy are we told to "be careful to obey"? Too many to count. See 6:17-18; 7:12; 8:1,6; 10:12,13; 11:1, and so forth.

Obedience is a huge deal, my friend. In the teachings of our Savior, it sounded like "hear the Word and do it," as in Matthew 7:24-27. In John 13:17, He said, "If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them." James 1:22 speaks of doing the word, not simply hearing it. And then there is 2 Corinthians 2:9. "For this purpose I wrote to you, that I might know the proof of you, whether you are obedient in all things." That's always the proof. What are you doing? At the wedding at Cana, Mary told the servants, "Do whatever He tells you" (John 2:5). That's been the plan ever since. Jesus asked, "Why do you call me Lord, Lord, and do not what I say?" (Luke 6:46).

IX. Why You Were Selected-7:7-8
It's crucial to be clear on this. "The Lord was devoted to you and chose you, not because you were more numerous than all peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples. But because the Lord loved you." He loved you because He loved you.

Then, Moses repeats the lesson: "When the Lord your God drives [the enemies] out before you, do not say to yourself, The Lord brought me in to take possession of this land because of my righteousness.' Instead, the Lord will drive out all these nations before you because of their wickedness." And in case you miss the point, He adds, "Understand that the Lord your God is not giving you this good land to possess because of your righteousness, for you are a stiff-necked people" (9:4-6). The rout of Canaan was God's judgment on them; the gift of Canaan to Israel was God's grace to them.

This is a hard lesson God's people to this day have difficulty grasping. He did not save us because we were good enough, sincere enough, deserving enough, or anything else. It's all of grace. "Not by works of righteousness that we have done, but by His mercy He has saved us" (Titus 3:5). Celebrate grace, people of the Lord. Drive a stake through your own pride. The prayer of the publican (Luke 18:13) should always be ours. "God, be merciful to me the sinner." I am unworthy. And so are you. It's all of grace. Every bit of it. We are a stiff-necked (proud) people. "He Himself knows our frame; He is mindful that we are but dust" (Ps. 103:14). The Lord is under no illusion about you and me; nor should we be.

X. Intercessory Prayer. It's A Tough Life-9:7-29. 
"I fell down in the presence of the Lord for 40 days and 40 nights" (9:18). And then, after Israel continued to provoke the Lord, "I fell down in the presence of the Lord 40 days and 40 nights because the Lord had threatened to destroy you" (9:25). Now, that's praying!

Do you know someone called as an intercessor? If so, you know it's one of the most difficult roles a Christian can fill. They end up taking on the burdens of everyone they meet. Most of us intercede by thinking of a friend in need and mentioning them to the Lord, and then we go on to other things. That's how I do it. One actually called to a ministry of intercession is unable to "go on to other things" because he or she lives with the burden and even enters into the pain with the sufferer.

Years ago, I read Norman Grubb's book Rees Howells, Intercessor, and have never thought of the subject the same way again. His was a hard, hard life of burden-bearing, and yet Howells would have insisted he was free in Christ.

Over the years, I've known no more than two or three people called the way Rees Howells was to this ministry of constant intercession, and frankly, have often given thanks that I was not one of them. That said, we are all to intercede for one another and to constantly bring ourselves into the presence of the Lord through prayer and to keep ourselves there. Samuel said to the nation of Israel, "God forbid that I should sin against the Lord by ceasing to pray for you" (1 Sam. 12:23). Indeed.

To read part three, click here

Joe McKeever is a retired Southern Baptist pastor from New Orleans, Louisiana. He blogs regularly at www.joemckeever.com.

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