Tag Archives: mishneh

Why does the book of Deuteronomy have such a weird name?

29 Aug

Related imageYesterday, I introduced the book of Deuteronomy as a bold, risky, truth-telling book.  But what in the world is this name Deuteronomy all about?

To answer that question, we first need to find where Deuteronomy is located in the Bible.  Deuteronomy is, in fact, the fifth book of the Bible. Starting with Genesis, we continue through Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and arrive at Deuteronomy.  As a group, those first five books get their own special name, The Pentateuch, which means “The five books or five scrolls.”  Let’s take a look at the names of those fives books.

Genesis is word meaning beginnings, which makes sense because Genesis talks about the beginning of the creation and of the people of Israel.

Exodus is a word that means the going out from, and that makes sense because it tells the story of how Israel went out from slavery in Egypt.

Leviticus has the Hebrew word Levi in it.  Levi was the priestly tribe, and much of Leviticus deals with religious regulations.

Numbers…well, open up the book of Numbers and leaf through it, and you’ll see pretty quickly where it gets its name.

But what in the world does the word Deuteronomy mean?  Take a look at Deuteronomy chapter 17.  Scroll down to verse 14, and what do you find?  Moses is still having his fireside chat with the people.  In this particular section, he is reminding them of God’s wishes for what should happen in the future when the nation arrives in the Promised Land, and they want to have a king over them. They’ve had numerous encounters with kings in the past, and those kings have been abusive, power-hungry, ego maniacs. Israel has not seen a real, live example of what a godly king should be. God wants something so much for better for Israel, and for the whole world.  He told Israel’s forefather Abraham that Abraham was going to be the father of a great nation, and through him the whole world would be blessed. One way Israel could be a blessing was to give the world an example of godly leadership.

Therefore in verse 18, and we read this:

“When he takes the throne of his kingdom, [the king] is to write for himself on a scroll a copy of this law, taken from that of the Levitical priests.”

The king is to write out his own copy of the law! My hand would be killing me if I had to write all that. Even typing that would take a long time.  But God saw this as a wonderful discipline for the king, desiring the king to keep his copy of the law…

with him, and he is to read it all the days of his life so that he may learn to revere the Lord his God and follow carefully all the words of this law and these decrees and not consider himself better than his fellow Israelites and turn from the law to the right or to the left. Then he and his descendants will reign a long time over his kingdom in Israel.”  

Now that is a description of leadership that the whole world needs.  Sounds pretty relevant even today, doesn’t it?  As we study Deuteronomy, we’ll eventually make our way to chapter 17, and then we’ll talk a lot more about godly leadership.  The reason I bring this up is to focus on that phrase, “copy of the law”.

The book of Deuteronomy was written in ancient Hebrew, the language of the Jews.  There are two Hebrew words in verse 18 that form the phrase, “a copy of the law”.  Mishneh, meaning “second” or “copy” or “repetition” and Torah which means “law.”  The King was to write out his own Mishneh of the Torah, his own copy of the law. That sounds a lot like what Moses is doing in the whole book of Deuteronomy, giving the people a review or repetition of the law, a Mishneh of the Torah. Because of this, Jews simply call this book, The Mishneh.  Considering how many Hebrew words we commonly use in the Bible, it would make sense for us to also call this book The Mishneh.

But we don’t call it that.  We English speakers call it Deuteronomy.  Here’s why.

When the Greeks conquered the Ancient Near East many centuries after the days of Moses, the Greek language became widespread.  Heard of Alexander the Great? He wanted to inject anything and everything Greek into the lands he conquered, and was he ever successful at this task. Greek architecture, culture, philosophy and language are still found, 2000+ years later, all over Europe and the Middle East. Books were translated into Greek so people could read them, including the Old Testament.  The most famous OT Greek translation, called The Septuagint, gave Greek titles to the various books, and that is where we get the word “Deuteronomy.”  As you might have guessed, “Deuteronomy” also means “a copy of the law” or “second law”.  In that Greek translation, in Deuteronomy 17:18, the section that talks about the king making a copy of the law, we read that the king is to make a “deuteronomia”, a second law, a copy. Isn’t it interesting that the Greek title is what stuck for us English speakers!

Our goal in this sermon series will be to look at this Second Law and how we learn about our great God, who he is, what his heart is like, and how he can impact our lives.

Moses’ fireside chat: Introducing Deuteronomy, a bold, risky book of truth-telling

28 Aug

Related imageI want you to imagine a scene with me.  In this scene older adults sit down with their family.  Splayed out around them are their kids, grandkids, and maybe even great-grandkids.  The older adult then starts telling the family history.  They include the familiar stories, and they tell ones never heard.

What I am describing is a fairly common scenario.  Maybe you have that one grandparent that loves to tell stories.  In our family it is my father-in-law.  He is a story teller, and he loves to talk about the pranks he pulled in college and when he and my mother-in-law were missionaries in Africa for 6 months and he shot big game.

The scenario of an older adult telling family stories tends to focus on “when I grew up in the Depression” or “When I fought in the war”. But how often do the stories tell the personal details of family failure?  Would a grandparent talk with their grandkids about how the grandparent really messed up, or how the grandkids’ parents really messed up?

Would they tell the good, the bad and the ugly?

We are very used to the public airing of dirty laundry of celebrities or politicians.  But not so much of our own.  We really appreciate our privacy.  It can be hard for us to hear the bad things.  At funerals we rarely talk about the person who passed in a negative light.  You get the idea that they were perfect and amazing.  But the family knows the true story.  The person who passed, like us all, had their faults.

Too often we just hide our faults, and we don’t talk about our mistakes.

What if older adults did broke with tradition?  What if we made a practice of reviewing the good, the bad and the ugly with our families?   What if we review the way of the Lord with our families?

At Faith Church this past Sunday, we started a sermon series through an Old Testament book that is just like that.

In the book of Deuteronomy, for the most part, Moses is sitting down with the nation of Israel to review what they have gone through.  The good, the bad, the ugly.  As we study Deuteronomy, we get to hear wisdom from Moses, as he reviews the work of God, and the Law of God, with the people of Israel.  We’ll hear a very courageous and shocking group of stories from Moses.  When the people totally screwed up, he reminds them of it.  He doesn’t excuse himself either.  And he doesn’t excuse God.  There are some stories where Moses tells about his own failures, and there are some things he says about God that will leave us scratching our heads.  These are not the tidy stories we’re accustomed to hearing.

So what about you?  Who can you tell stories to?  Has God given you kids or grandkids?  Maybe employees?  Maybe someone that you are seeking to invest in?  How can you sit down with them and have a fireside chat like Moses?  Tell the the good, for sure, but will you also tell them the bad, the ugly?  As Moses does with the Israelites, we can do with those God has placed in our lives.  The Israelites needed to hear the truth.  The whole truth.  The needed the real picture of what got their people to this point.  Our families and friends need the same from us.  Who can you can tell the truth to?