Biblical Studies

Book Review: Deuteronomy (AOTC), Gordon McConville

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“Oh, how I love your law! I meditate on it all day long.”

In the longest psalm and chapter of the Bible, the Psalmist (119:97) declares his love for God’s law, his torah. The law of the Lord is perfect (Ps 19:7) and the commandment of the Lord is pure (19:8), God’s torah, his law or instruction, can be trusted with delight. While the Torah is in general, the Pentateuch, more narrowly it is the laws of the Pentateuch, and even more narrowly it is the book of Deuteronomy with its laws, history, and narrative. 

Gordon McConville, OT professor at the University of Gloucestershire, UK, wrote the inaugural volume for the Apollos Old Testament Commentary series. Sometimes called the Romans of the OT, I’ve been wanting to study Deuteronomy for a while (and my wife loves the book).

McConville “does not defend Mosaic authorship” (39), though he does advocate for a “relatively early date” (40). Rather than trying to pin down an exact date, McConville tries “to look for the place it had in the life of Israel” (40). Though that was disappointing to read, he does offer a theological interpretation of Deuteronomy in the context of the biblical canon. Since Moses gave God’s word to a new generation, those of us today, a new generation, grafted into the people of Israel through Christ, the true Israel, McConville’s theological reading makes Deuteronomy meaningful to you. Historical issues are dealt with, but they do not eclipse the theological reading.

In regards to faith, McConville shows how Moses teaches this new generation how God is giving them this land and they will obtain it by faith. The previous generation did not obtain it because they did not believe God in the face of the reports of the giants. Here in the first chapter of Deuteronomy, Moses emphasizes how God has given the people the land (Deut 1:8, 20-21, 30-31, 35, 36, 38, 39). Deuteronomy 2 actually teaches us about contentment. God doesn’t allow Israel to take any land from Edom, Moab, or Ammon. McConville writes, “Israel’s ‘inheritance’ of Canaan is only a part of Yahweh’s distribution of territories to the nations” (81). Israel must be satisfied with the future promise land that Yahweh is giving them, and we must be satisfied with what he gives us too.

Israel’s journey in Deuteronomy 1-3 is directly related to their faith. When they failed, they went back to the Red Sea (2:1), almost as if to start all over again. In faith they begin to take the Transjordan, and those tribes who will live there get their ‘inheritance’ and can ‘rest,’ a picture of what the rest of the tribes will get to do as long as they keep the faith. In fact, throughout Deuteronomy while the people stand at Mt. Horeb, “Israel remains at a place of present decision” (197).

Obedience is to be the most fundamental level of Israel’s life. They are to circumcise their hearts, a way of describing their inner life, their character. Moses exposed their character in 9:1-10:11 by reminding them of their rebellion with the golden calf and other instances. They are told “do not again be stubborn” (see 9:6). McConville doesn’t often draw parallels to the NT, but this is one of the instances where he does so. Love for God and following his commands are not in contrast. They are to obey because they love him. Paul notes in Romans 2:25-29 that one is a “true Jew” through the circumcision of the heart by the Spirit, not because they have certain physical marks. “The Torah taught by Moses takes on an authority equal to that of the words of Yahweh given at Sinai” (40).

Many have thought that Deuteronomy 4:44-49 is so similar to 1:1-5 that it is “superfluous” (101). Rather, McConville points out that it is an inclusio, closing off the first section.

With each section of the commentary McConville provides his own translation of the Hebrew text, relevant notes on the text dealing with translational and linguistic matters, the form and structure of the unit, comments on the passage, and a final explanation which often brings together Exodus with the rest of the Bible and pairs it with our daily life and ministries.

The Spoiled Milk

Just like with the Exodus commentary in this series, McConville does not give his own outline of Deuteronomy. I’ve not looked at any of the other volumes yet, but I assume this is standard for the series. If so, an outline of the book is a strange thing for a commentary series to leave out. If you want to know McConville’s “outline,” you would have to go through the entire book and write down every heading. Even still you would have to do some serious work to figure out how a section (e.g., 5:1-33) fits into the whole book.

Recommended?

McConville’s Deuteronomy volume is a wealth of critical and conservative knowledge. McConville has spent years writing on Deuteronomy, and it shows in his commentary. He is careful and thorough with each section before him. His theological perspective understands Deuteronomy as God’s word. I enjoyed the commentary, and want to go through the rest of it with Daniel Block’s NIVAC commentary, along with a shorter commentary like Wright (NIBC) or Woods (TOTC).

Lagniappe

  • Series: Apollos Old Testament Commentary
  • Author: Gordon McConville
  • Hardcover: 544 pages
  • Publisher: IVP Academic (September 14, 2002)

Buy it from Amazon or IVP Academic!

Disclosure: I received this book free from IVP Academic. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html.

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