Deuteronomy is one of those books that many find themselves bogged down in as they work their way through their yearly Bible reading plan. All of the laws, regulations, and endless chapters of do’s and don’ts seem very far removed from 21st century Christianity. Furthermore, finding a commentary that you can connect to and for that matter, one that demonstrates with great clarity the underlying message of the book of Deuteronomy is itself a challenge. Ajith Fernando’s effort on Deuteronomy aptly subtitled Loving Obedience to a Loving God which is part of the excellent Preaching the Word commentary series, is theologically deep while at the same time providing the reader with the necessary connections to the fundamental message God is declaring in Deuteronomy to believers throughout history.
A book of the Bible such as Deuteronomy can be confusing and admittedly boring to read unless one grasps what God is saying. Ajith Fernando rightly notes at the outset of this commentary that Deuteronomy emphasizes “The importance of constantly being aware of the holiness of God and how it influences a faithful life. In fact, in the Old Testament the life of faith is often described as walking in the fear of the Lord, an emphasis that may be needed today when people tend to be careless about sticking to Christian principles in every sphere of life.” Such a statement helps the reader better understand that Deuteronomy is far more than a collection of antiquated rules. It is a book about what obedience and holiness looks like and how we are to respond to God’s grace extended towards us.
Fernando first establishes some needed background information on Deuteronomy, noting matters of authorship, historical, and geographical importance noting the reality that “The fact that Deuteronomy was written to a specific context adds a freshness and relevance to it.” I appreciated the focus Fernando gave to helping preachers, who are after all the target audience for this commentary, understand and relate to the manner by which Moses shared God’s commands and word with the people of Israel. It is important to realize Moses understood the need to “give the people the word of God that will mediate to the people the health and stability they need in order to face their challenges successfully.” After establishing these vital foundational matters for engaging Deuteronomy, Fernando then begins his exegesis of the text. Since this is a rather lengthy commentary that is replete with salient insight, I will focus the remainder of this review on a couple of notable highlights.
In his analysis of Deuteronomy 1:19-33, Fernando aptly discusses the issue of fear versus faith. The people of Israel are camped at Horeb and have been given the command by God to depart in order to finally enter the Promised Land. One can only imagine the tense feelings that permeated the hearts and minds of the people during this time of uncertainty. Recognizing that element of fear, Moses reminded the people the Promised Land is the place “which the Lord our God is giving us”, demonstrating in that statement the certainty of the outcome. The first step towards entering the land of promise was faith in God and His promises. Fernando rightly notes “This passage shows us that fear is a reality that we should combat with our belief in the sovereignty of God. And to encourage us to believe, we have a whole history of God’s glorious dealings with his people. Fear is a reality, but it does not need to overcome us and lead to defeat. We can overcome it with our faith in God’s sovereignty.” Such a concept is something pastors can and should include in their sermons and Fernando does an excellent job of relating how the situation facing the people of Israel and their penchant for fear is nothing new. Such fear can only be defeated by faith in our sovereign God.
Another excellent portion of this commentary is Fernando’s discussion of Deuteronomy 5:18, namely the command “And you shall not commit adultery.” In an age where sexual promiscuity truly permeates all of secular society and unfortunately even within the church, it is as important as ever to declare from the pulpit God’s commands for righteousness when it comes to matters of sex and purity. Fernando correctly states “The seriousness of adultery lay in the fact that the family was an absolutely vital aspect of the covenant relationship of God with the community of Israel.” He further avers “The Bible takes the principle of commitment that lies behind God’s covenant relationship with humans and the covenant relationship between a man and his wife very seriously.” A violation of that covenant is a violation of God’s commands which of course is outright sin. Throughout Scripture, God continually demonstrates His abhorrence of adultery. Whether it was in the life of King David or Paul’s command to the Corinthian Church to flee sexual immorality, the covenant of marriage is something God takes very seriously meaning it is something His people should take with the utmost seriousness as well. There is no wiggle room with adultery. In order to combat the temptation of sexual sin, Fernando rightly reminds the reader to find an accountability partner and to “always remain on guard against the enemy. It is dangerous for anyone to think that he is above temptation in this area.”
A final aspect of this commentary I enjoyed was Fernando’s discussion of the pilgrimage festivals outlined in Deuteronomy 16:1-17. I have long found the Feasts of the Lord to be a fascinating study of God’s faithfulness to His people. They are far more than simply dates on the Jewish calendar or something completely unimportant for believers today to read and understand. As Fernando rightly states, “They were occasions of great joy and of affirming truths that bonded the community together.” Furthermore, these feasts carry great importance in God’s salvation history calendar as the spring feasts have been fulfilled by Christ and the fall feasts in large part have yet to find their complete fulfillment. In fact, when we partake of communion for example, we are remembering Jesus as the Passover Lamb. The Feast of Pentecost was fulfilled with the giving of the Holy Spirit of God in Acts 2. The Feast of Booths or Tabernacles reminds us of God dwelling with His people. Ultimately, these feasts speak of God’s faithfulness, sovereignty, and the need for community. They remind us of God moving throughout history on behalf of His people and Fernando does a great job of explaining that very truth.
I highly recommend this commentary for all believers but especially for pastors. The outstanding exegesis, valuable application, and recommendations contained throughout on how pastors can share the underlying message found in Deuteronomy of loving obedience to a loving God is what makes this volume well worth the read. It will become a valuable tool for developing sermons not just on Deuteronomy itself, but also in regards to the many topics Deuteronomy touches on that are repeated throughout Scripture.
This book is available for purchase from Crossway Books by clicking here.
I received this book for free from Crossway Books for this review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”