Introduction to Deuteronomy
Work is a major subject of the book of Deuteronomy, and prominent topics include the following:
- The meaning and value of work. God’s command to work for the benefit of others, the blessings of work for the individual and the community, the consequences of failure and the dangers of success, and the responsibility that comes from representing God to others.
- Relationships at work. The importance of good relationships, the development of dignity and respect for others, and the requirement not to harm others or speak unjustly of them in our work.
- Leadership. The wise exercise of leadership and authority, succession planning and training, and the responsibility of leaders to work for the benefit of the people they lead.
- Economic justice. Respect for property, worker’s rights, and courts of law, productive use of resources, lending and borrowing, and honesty in commercial agreements and fair trade.
- Work and rest. The requirement to work, the importance of rest, and the invitation to trust God to provide for us whether at work or at rest.
Despite the centuries of change in commerce and vocation, Deuteronomy can help us better understand how to live in response to God’s love and serve others through our work.
The book’s dramatic, unified presentation makes it especially memorable. Jesus quoted from Deuteronomy at length. In fact, his first Scripture quotations were three passages from Deuteronomy (Matt. 4:4, 7, 10). The New Testament refers to Deuteronomy more than fifty times, a number exceeded only by Psalms and Isaiah. And Deuteronomy contains the first formulation of the Great Commandment, “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).
Underlying all the themes in Deuteronomy is Israel’s covenant with the one true God. Everything in the book flows from the keystone of the covenant, “I am the Lord your God…you shall have no other gods before me” (Deut. 5:6-7). When people worship the Lord alone, good governance, productive work, ethical commerce, civic good, and fair treatment for all will generally result. When people put other motivations, values, and concerns ahead of God, work and life come to grief.
Deuteronomy covers the same material as the other books of the law—Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers—but heightens the attention paid to work, most notably in the Ten Commandments. It seems as if in retelling the events and teachings of the other books, Moses feels a need to emphasize the importance of work in the life of God’s people. Perhaps in some sense this foreshadows the growing attention that Christians are giving work in the present day. Looking at Scripture with fresh eyes, we discover that work is more important to God than we realized before, and that God’s word gives more direction to our work than we thought.
Bruce K. Waltke and Charles Yu, An Old Testament Theology: An Exegetical, Canonical, and Thematic Approach (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2007), 479-80.