I once had someone ask me, “Why bother study Deuteronomy when all you really need to know is that you must love God with all your heart?” I replied, “Do you know where in Scripture that is found?” “No,” was the reply.
We may think that Deuteronomy is a book of obscure rules. However, nothing could be further from the truth. Deuteronomy is a sermon given by Moses on his last day on earth on one of the most critical issues—what it means to love God.
As believers, we cannot afford to take for granted the definition of “loving God.” Too often we allow the world or our feelings to define what it means to love someone, including God. In the end, however, we need to ensure we love God in the way He has dictated. And Deuteronomy is the book that defines what it means to love God.
Foundational Lessons about Love
In its opening chapters, Deuteronomy puts forward foundational truths about loving God. In narrating Israel’s history, Moses lists important truths concerning their relationship with God. For example, a generation of Israelites died in the wilderness because they did not believe God (Deut 1:32). Faith is foundational for Israel (cf. Gen 15:6). No one can love God without first believing Him.
Love is not merely a good feeling; instead, love for God is prioritizing Him and ensuring that His desire is always accomplished.
In this opening discussion, Moses also presents one of the greatest threats to obedience and love. The first step toward waywardness is forgetting God (Deut 4:9). Forgetting is not the same as suppressing a memory or truth. Forgetting simply means to not remember. In essence, all you need to do to forget is to do nothing. Failing to stay vigilant and to prioritize God is the early stages of hating Him. The people of God must guard themselves against such apathy.
But Moses tells of the antidote to this danger. He commands that Israel “…make them [God’s statutes] known to your sons and your grandsons” (Deut 4:9b). We fight forgetfulness by teaching. As we continually labor to make Him known, we remember who He is and what He has told us. By doing so, we defend against apathy and waywardness.
True Love for God
In chapter 6, Moses writes, “Now this is the commandment.” (Deut 6:1). Note that commandment is singular. Moses will later discuss commandments and statutes (Deut 12:1), but here he addresses a single command. What Moses is about to discuss is the commandment at the heart of the law, the very core of what God desires. And it is this: “Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord is one! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.” (Deut 6:4–5).
These verses shatter our perceptions about law and love. Some think the law requires simple, rote obedience. However, that is not what Moses says. At the core of the law is love for the one true God. In these verses, Moses summarizes the definition of love: love is not merely a good feeling; instead, love for God is prioritizing Him and ensuring that His desire is always accomplished. That is how God defines love. That is even how He defines obedience. Jesus Himself said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” (John 14:15). Loving God and prioritizing His desires are inseparable.
Moses develops this idea further in Deut 6-11. Loving God means to hate what He hates (Deut 7). After all, embracing what God hates is an act of hatred to Him; it is spiritual adultery (cf. Deut 7:1-4). Loving God means to abandon pride and self-reliance (Deut 8). We cannot prize God when we prize ourselves in our hearts (cf. Deut 8:17). Loving God also means to reject self-righteousness. We cannot delight in God when we believe we are entitled to what He has given us (cf. Deut 9:4).
Moses concludes that God ultimately requires a love that fears God and keeps His commandments (Deut 10:12-13). This is the exact language found in Eccl 12:13. When writing about what one must ultimately learn about the purpose of life, Solomon drew from Deuteronomy.
The Ten Commandments and Loving God
Moses has preached about the nature of love for God. He now illustrates it. What does it look like to prioritize God in every aspect of life, from the inside out? Moses will discuss this in Deut 12-26. These chapters are not filled with random laws; these laws expound upon the Ten Commandments. Deuteronomy 12-26 shows how to live out these commands, and thereby honor God. While believers today are not under Israel’s law (Rom 6:14), we have much to learn from it.
1. Have no other gods before Him (Deut 12)
We must not misunderstand God. He is only One, and He alone deserves our fear, service, and undivided worship. For Israel, this means worship will be held in one place to show the world there is only one God. Worship must deliberately and clearly reflect the exclusive nature of God. He alone is in His own category.
2. Do not make for yourself an idol (Deut 13)
We cannot put anything on the same level as God, and we cannot bring Him down to us. Distorting His nature by making Him creaturely when He is the Creator brings death (Deut 13). God’s people should never be tempted to compromise God’s exclusive exaltedness.
3. Do not take the Lord’s name in vain (Deut 14)
We were created to uphold the character of God. God has revealed who He is in Scripture, and our lives must consistently reflect that. That includes the most dramatic (how they handle a loved one’s death) and the most mundane (the foods that they eat on a daily basis) moments of life.
4. Honor the Sabbath Day by keeping it holy (Deut 14-16)
This command reminds us that not only does God own all of time, but He controls the very purpose of time. That means He controls the purpose of our lives. For Israel, God owned not only the Sabbath, but also their holidays, which pointed to theological truths (Deut 16). Because He owned their time, He also owned their money and ordained its usage (cf. Deut 14:22-29). The people of God are to ensure that all their time is redeemed to witness to God and His plan.
5. Honor your father and mother (Deut 16-18)
We are designed to honor God on a horizontal level. We need to respect and submit to all human authorities because they act with God-given authority.
6. Do not murder (Deut 19-21)
In positive terms, we preserve life because our God is the God of life. For Israel, they were to preserve life, even in dire situations, to uphold this attribute of God.
7. Do not commit adultery (Deut 22-23)
We uphold purity because our God is holy and pure.
8. Do not steal (Deut 23-24)
God is sovereign and owns all things. Yet He has chosen to give certain things to certain people. That must be respected. This includes fair business practices and paying people on time (cf. Deut 24:15).
9. Do not bear false witness against your neighbor (Deut 24-25)
This law fights against the perversion of justice. This is seen in individual responsibility and accountability to the law (Deut 24:16), in carefully upholding due process (Deut 25:1-3), and in ensuring that one does not show partiality (Deut 24:17-22).
10. Do not covet (Deut 25-26)
This demands not only a recognition of the sovereignty of God, but also a submission to it. We do not strive in our hearts for more than what He, in His infinite wisdom, has given us.
Love for God is more than a mere feeling. It is when we ensure His desires are realized in every aspect of life, whether that be our time, money, worship, holiness, business, or treatment of others. Moses has illustrated that all of these areas can and must be an act of devotion to our God.
Moses though does not merely tell Israel what love for God looks like. He also shows how this will play out and be fulfilled in the breadth of God’s plan. Moses explains that in and of themselves, Israel can never truly love God (Deut 29:4). However, God will one day circumcise their heart so they can love Him wholeheartedly (Deut 30:6). Key to this is God raising up a prophet like Moses (Deut 34:10).
Thus, Deuteronomy anticipates a time when One, like Moses, will ascend a mountain in order to give a new law. Unlike the words of Moses, which concentrated on curse, this One’s first words are “Blessed” (Matt 5:3). He is the bringer of the New Covenant, which makes hearts new (cf. Jer 31:31; Lk 22:20).
Deuteronomy then points to the future, a future which fulfills the love defined in Deuteronomy, a future fulfilled in the Lord Jesus Christ.
Deuteronomy is not just an antiquated book. On Moses’ last day he gives an epic sermon—one that stretches out over the entire plan of God from past to future, one that touches the very foundation of our lives as believers. May we delve into the depths of this book to learn how to love God well.