Review: The Gospel According to Moses

moses

Although a name like Deuteronomy, which translates as “second law,” is scarcely inviting to modern readers, the book we know by this name may yet hold the key to rediscovering the gospel in the Old Testament (xii).

Deuteronomy has been likened to the Romans and Gospel of John of the Old Testament. It is a reflection on God’s actions in saving a people for himself while presenting a full theology of the Old Testament. Not many scholars know Deuteronomy better than Block (880 pages in the NIVAC series, and an upcoming 1,800 page, 3 volume work on Deuteronomy seen here and here). This companion volume to How I Love Your Torah, O Lord! is made up of nine essays and three excursus on theological issues in Deuteronomy.

Summary

Chapter One is a theological introduction to Deuteronomy where Block briefly covers the book’s history of interpretation, its message, its canonical status, and its theology.

Chapter Two works to “recover the vote of Moses.” While many critical scholars think of Deuteronomy as being written by an anonymous writer or that it was put together in the days of Josiah (2 Kings 22-23). While agreeing that there was an editing process, Block shows how Moses’ words were authentic and that they became canonical quite quickly. Some might wonder about the importance of this chapter. Given that many think the Ten Words in Deuteronomy are incorrect and that the author/editor/Moses wrote/spoke in error (this topic is dealt with in chapter five), one quickly sees the importance of a chapter on the authoritative voice of Moses in Deuteronomy.

  • Excursus A gives us the texts dealing with the different voices in Deuteronomy: those of Yahweh, Moses, and the narrator, along with the first (5-26; 28) and second (31.1-32.47) editions of the Torah of Moses.
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  • Excursus B gives evidence of the Ten Commandments (“Words”) having been already written down and to the canonization of Moses’ speeches in Deuteronomy.

Chapter Three explores the role and ministry of Moses. Rather than Moses simply being the lawgiver in the eyes of Israel (and present days readers), Moses should be likened to a pastor who, knowing he is about to die and leave his congregation behind, gives them his final goodbyes in a series of sermons to provoke them to continue on in following Yahweh, the one true God. 

Chapter Four shows the reader how to preach the OT law to NT believers. It’s not a matter of distinguishing between moral, ceremonial, and civil laws. The solution isn’t found by asking “Do I have to keep these laws?,” but “How can I as a Christian keep these commandments?” (132). Block shows how the laws were supposed to be understood in the life of the believing community, then and now. 

Chapter Five compares the two versions of the 10 Words found in Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5, and reflects on the significance of the differences in matters of theology and life in Israel. How do these laws apply to a new generation, soon to enter the promised land, growing up 40 years after the Decalogue was first given?

  • Excursus C compares how the Reformed tradition numbers the Decalogue (“Ten Commandments”) with how the Catholic and Lutheran traditions number them.

Chapter Six gives us a theology of animals. We are to love God and our neighbor, but we shouldn’t forget the rest of God’s creation.

Chapter Seven covers other religions in OT theology. Rather than incorporating pagan ideas into their theology, the OT authors “thoroughly demythologized” the pagan notions and showed Yahweh to be the God of gods (213).

Chapter Eight is about bearing the name of Yahweh in a world that follows other gods. Israel had YHWH’s stamp on them, one intolerant to other brands and allegiances (267). To have the name of God on you meant to live according to the ways of God, not that of the Canaanites. “These things were written down for our instruction” (10.11).

Chapter Nine is on the Mosaic vision of worship to the living God. It is the human response to God’s redemption, calling, and revelation, and it is worship from the heart expressed in physical actions. This chapter is a work to reconnect the Old Testament, that Bible read by Jesus and the apostles, back to the New Testament in the eyes of church-goers today.

The Milk

As with all of Block’s writing, this is a solid work. I am always amazed (or bewildered) by the amount of information that Block is able to write about (and even remember). Though my views don’t line up with all of his (he’s a covenant theologian, something I’m not completely on board with), there is always much to learn from Block (see my Posts section below on the differences between the 10 commandments in Exodus and Deuteronomy, along with the Law’s view of women).

My one complaint is aimed toward the title and description. It seems nitpicky, but the book wasn’t exactly what I expected. Though it is titled “The Gospel of Moses” with the articles being “concerned with broad hermeneutical and theological issues raised by Deuteronomy,” and it seems to appeal to a broad audience, these essays were not written for a broad audience.

In the Preface Block states that the essays

range in focus from an introductory consideration of the theological message of the book to its original audience and to modern readers, to the theological message of the book, to how it might have been produced, to a consideration of how the book might aid Christians in their life of faith and enrich their worship of our gracious Redeemer (xiii).

Particular texts in Deuteronomy could be found in the How I Love Your Torah, O Lord! volume. Yet even in this volume there is an immense amount of detail in these essays, along with the use of untransliterated Hebrew without always giving its English translation. The topics are important, but they are not easy to read.

The back cover of the book reads,

Unfortunately, for many Christians, Deuteronomy is a dead book, because we have lost sight of the gospel. The essays in this collection arise from a larger project driven by a passion to recover for Christians the life-giving message of the Old Testament in general and the gospel according to Moses in particular.

Unfortunately, as well-written, informative, and astute as this book is, many churchgoers will struggle to get through this book, much less find its relevance. 

Recommended?

As with How I Love Your Torah, O Lord!, By the River Chebar, and Beyond the River Chebar, this volume is packed with information, not only details but insights into the overall text of Deuteronomy. For academics, seminary students, and to the knowledgeable layperson, Block’s volume is a goldmine for textual details, but the average pastor may have a hard time mining out enough application for Deuteronomy. For that they should go to Block’s Deuteronomy commentary in the NIVAC series. But for those who want to dig deeper into Deuteronomy past Block’s commentary, this is where they should look.

Lagniappe

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Buy on Amazon or at Wipf & Stock 

[Special thanks to Wipf & Stock for allowing me to review this book. I was not required to give a positive review in exchange for this book].

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