I’ve had a keen interest in studying Deuteronomy more in-depth for a while. It’s one of the most frequently quoted Old Testaments book in the New Testament and it’s foundational for understanding the rest of the Old Testament. I requested the book from Zondervan and upon arrival was immediately intimidated. It’s over 800 pages long. I actually put off starting to read it multiple times but once I jumped in I was pleasantly surprised. NAC Deuteronomy is readable and practical. Each chapter starts with Scripture and then immediately wades into the exegetical deep end (“Original Meaning”) and is followed by “Bridging the Context” and “Contemporary Significance.”
Three Important Focuses
I especially appreciated three focuses of NAC Deuteronomy. First, Block writes with an intentional gospel focus. He sets the expectations early on and didn’t fail to follow through. Throughout he contrasts common misconception that Moses is all law and the New Testament is all grace. He strongly argues that Deuteronomy actually contrast “mediated grace (‘through Moses’) and embodied grace (‘in Jesus Christ’)” (p. 57). So there’s not two gospels--it’s rather an issue of intensity (Hebrews 3:1-6 compares Moses and Jesus as servant versus son). Just a few pages later, Block says,
[T]his book present the gospel according to Moses. This is a gospel of divine grace lavished on undeserving human beings. Moses’s vision of humanity as a whole. The book points the reader to the Lord God, who has redeemed his people and assigned them the mission of radiating his grace to the world (p. 59 also see pp. 116, 122-23, 145-46, and especially 200-01).
I want to offer the most prominent example of his gospel focus. Commenting on Deuteronomy 4, Block says,
The implications of God’s gracious acts of deliverance for Israel and for us are the same. Having been redeemed, why would we not commit ourselves to joyful obedience? . . . Jesus himself instructs us, ‘If you love me (that is, if you are covenantally committed to me), you will keep my commands’ (John 14:15 [per. trans]). . . .
Indeed we may bring out the relevance of Deut. 4:32 – 40 for us who have experienced the grace of God in Christ by recasting this entire section from Deuteronomy in Christian vocabulary:
Ask now of the days that are past, which were before you, since the day that God created humankind on the earth, and ask from one end of heaven to the other, whether such a great thing as this has ever happened or was ever heard of. Did any people ever encoun- ter their gods directly, as you have encountered him, and still live? Or has any god ever dared to invade the kingdom of darkness and take for himself a people from the midst of that kingdom by trials, by signs, by wonders, and by war, by a mighty hand and an out- stretched arm, and by great deeds of terror, all of which Jesus Christ your God has done for you on the cross before your eyes?
To you it was shown, that you might know that Jesus Christ is Yahweh, God; there is no other besides him. Out of heaven he came as the divine Word, that he might reveal the Father to you, and on earth he revealed his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth (John 1:14).
And because he loved the ancestors and chose their spiritual offspring after them and brought you out of the kingdom of darkness by his great power, disarming the rulers and authorities and putting them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him (Col. 2:15), in order to grant us an inheritance, since we have been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will (Eph. 1:11).
Know therefore today, and lay it to your heart, that Jesus Christ is Yahweh; he is God in heaven above and on the earth beneath; there is no other.
Therefore walk in a manner worthy of the Jesus Christ the lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, and giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light (Col. 1:10 – 12). (pp. 148-49).
This kind of “preaching” should inform the way we gospel our family, friends, and church. I could reproduce this emphasis throughout the book but that will suffice.
Second, the application he makes is robust. For instance, after discussing Deut. 2:2-23, Block says,
This text has special significance for the present crisis in the Middle East, reminding us that God’s eyes are not only on his chosen people. They are also on the Transjordanian lands, now taken up by the Hashemite kingdom of Jordan, and the Sinai peninsula, which is part of Egypt. The same God who preserved this land for Moabites and Ammonites has given it to the Jordanians and Egyptians. The church would do well to encourage modern Israel to treat their neighbors with the respect that Yahweh had demanded from the ancestors of this people more than three thousand years ago. Israelite title to the land is not unconditional. Apart from faith the migration of the Israelites is merely one migration among many (Amos 9:7). There is no automatic title to God’s promises for those who refuse to trust him and serve him. This is true for the physical descendants of Jacob as well as for those who claim to be his spiritual heirs. (p. 87)
In discussing, Moses preaching through the story of Israel in 4:32-40, Block says,
This text reminds us that our ethic must derive from our theology, which in turn derives from the memory of God’s gracious intervention in human history. Tragically, the evangelical church is not only losing its theology; it is losing the story. For this reason we must continue boldly proclaiming God’s amazing acts of redemption. This is why we preach Christ and him crucified. In the cross alone is there any hope of salvation for anyone (p. 147)
Such relevant cultural insight and application for today. Our ABC evangelism has created a Christian ethos where we have lost our place in the story and have in turn frequently lost the gospel message (see also his application to our Christian worship today pp. 189-90, 253-55).
Last, I appreciated the way he handled tough texts in Deuteronomy. I’m specifically thinking about the Israelite conquest and destruction of the Canaanite peoples. Block first offers nine responses to the problem many people find in these passages (pp. 97-99). I won’t review them here but if you’re a pastor and preaching through Deuteronomy I don’t know how you could preach through the book without addressing this issue. And if you had ever been tempted to skip over this topic because of the difficulty I would encourage you not to do so. Block will help you think deeply about this issue and he’s right when he says, “These texts are so troubling that many reject the Old Testament and its God because of this single issue” (p. 97 see also pp. 205-223) and therefore they should not be ignored and swept under the rug with trite answers.
Also, Block’s handling of the narrative of Israel’s rebellion with the golden calf and Moses’s intercession was also skilled.
This story is not about him or his power as intercessor; it is about God and his people. Yahweh is not delivering the Promised Land into their hands as a reward for their superior righteousness. Nor is it because of their leader, however fearless he may have been in his intercession. Ultimately the credit for the success of the present mission will go entirely to Yahweh, their covenant God. (p. 260)
Combined with his emphasis earlier on prayer that does not change God as much as it changes us and his emphasis on the covenant made between Israel and God and Block provides a full picture of what happened and the importance of the Moses’s prayer and God’s faithfulness to his covenant.
NAC Deuteronomy--A Must Read
With this being the first commentary in this series that I have read I’m also interested in looking at other commentaries in this series now especially other Old Testament books. I would highly recommend NAC Deuteronomy for pastors who plan on preaching through Deuteronomy but also for lay-leaders and other serious Christian readers who are interested in getting the most out of the Old Testament. The consistent gospel focus and the intense application will strength your understanding of the entire Old Testament (Block calls it the Romans of the Old Testament for its systematic presentation of the Old Testament message p. 25). It will teach you to read it with these focuses in mind. And for pastors the exegesis combined with rigorous practical application is a model for preaching in the OT. So much preaching in the OT is plan bad but again NAC Deuteronomy will show you the ropes so fear not.