My Old Testament professor tells us that Deuteronomy was the book Jesus quotes most of all. He tells us how Jesus surely loved this book of the Bible; it was the weapon of warfare Jesus used to defeat Satan during the temptation in the wilderness (Matthew 4). I didn’t realize this. I checked! It’s true!
When I was a young woman, I remember reading Deuteronomy as a metaphor for my whole life. I didn’t know anything about the history of Israel, the geography of the ancient world, or even what the word Deuteronomy meant (it translates “spoken words” in Hebrew and as “second law” in Greek, as in serving as a reiteration of God’s law). I didn’t know how to interpret scripture faithfully and accurately. All I knew is that I was soul-hungry for God, and these words in the Bible had something to do with people being lost and wandering in the wilderness, and God was now ready to bring them into their promised land.
That was me! I was wandering and ready to inhabit the new life in Christ I was learning about. I was miserable and stuck. I was wallowing. Then, I read in the first chapter those sweet words of the Lord: “You have stayed long enough at this mountain. Break camp and advance. . . See, I have given you this land. Go in and take possession of the land” (v. 6-8).
It felt like God speaking in my heart like this: You have stayed long enough in this miserable place. Advance into the life I have for you! Go!
The first Bible verse I ever memorized and carried in my heart was Deuteronomy 31:6. Moses is about to die. He has something to say to the people as they will go into this promised land. He says: “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of [your enemies], for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you or forsake you.”
So I thought about strength and courage. I thought about never living in fear. I thought about how God was with me always, and He would never leave. Now, I was to depart from my mountain of miserable wandering. Nothing would ever be the same.
For the next 20 years, I carried these words. Whenever I feel stuck and wallowing, I remember my moments in Deuteronomy. Now, I know all about this book academically, but it never changes how the Holy Spirit still speaks and instructs about our moving into the paths God has traced for us.
And as I find myself surrounded more and more with younger people–those in their 20’s and 30’s–I tell them about my Deuteronomy moments. Maybe they need to leave their mountain of wallowing and wandering and go into the new places God has for them. It will take knowing that God is with them and will not fail them. It will take knowing that there is a promised land just over the ridge. And one day, when they turn 40, they will read this verse in Deuteronomy 2:7 and smile like I did:
“The Lord has blessed you in all the work of your hands. He has watched over your journey. . . These forty years, the Lord your God has been with you, and you have not lacked anything.”
The story of Deuteronomy was always our story, too.