Honey from the Rock: Deuteronomy for the People of
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JAMES ROBSON describes his study as written for "those
interested in understanding Deuteronomy's role within a
Christian biblical theology". He eschews any critical
reading of the text, but takes it as it stands. This inevitably
means that he does not consider any possible development of
theological ideas within the book itself.
In part 1, Robson examines the narrative of Deuteronomy and
considers how it forms part of the wider biblical story in both Old
and New Testaments. He recognises Yahweh's desire for his people is
that they enjoy life in all its fullness and that obedience to the
Torah is the means to obtain it. While disobedience may bring
curse, the law itself is seen as a blessing.
Although he never considers the inadequacy of covenant theology
exposed by the exile, which forms the bedrock of Deuteronomy, and
is used by the Deuteronomists to judge Israel's subsequent history
set out in Joshua-2 Kings, he rightly argues that the
Deuteronomists came to recognise that in fact Yahweh could not
abandon his people. So the command to Israel to circumcise the
heart (Deuteronomy 10.16) in the end has to be fulfilled by Yahweh
himself (Deuteronomy 30.6). Her future existence depended on grace,
not law, a theology fully worked out in Ezekiel, Second Isaiah
(40-55), and the Priestly Writer.
Robson holds that the relationship between Deuteronomy and the
wider biblical story is not straightforward. Israel is, though, the
means whereby God wills to redeem the whole creation. As the age of
the New Testament dawns, Robson sees strong parallels between
Israel's position then and in "the final provenance of
In part 2, Robson describes Deuteronomy's vision for Israel as a
redeemed community; a loved people; a chosen people; a
holy-to-Yahweh people; a brotherhood. All demand Israel's response.
He then considers both negatively and positively how Deuteronomic
laws should be interpreted. While he analyses the social, cultural,
theological, and ethical discontinuities, he emphasises that the
Church and the individual Christian need to appropriate
Deuteronomy's laws, even though the unchanging words of scripture
need interpretation in ever changing circumstances.
How this is done Robson addresses in his final chapter,
admitting the differences between the ideal and the real and the
consequent limits formed by what is practical. God has to put up
with much less than he deserves. As an example, Robson discusses in
depth the law relating to the release of debts and the exhortation
to be generous in lending to the poor even when the year of release
is near (Deuteronomy 15.1-11). Here he is able to allude briefly to
contemporary economic issues such as the conduct of the banks and
the distasteful categorisation of the poor into deserving and
undeserving. Whether all other laws could be so positively analysed
for the Christian is perhaps more doubtful. Further, one wonders
whether his example law does not justify itself without recourse to
any Christian perspective.
This is a useful work that deserves careful study. Robson's hope
is that it will encourage clergy to preach from Deuteronomy.
Perhaps no part of scripture challenges our humanitarian and
economic responsibilities more than Deuteronomy. But Deuteronomy's
greatest importance lies in the persistent warning to Israel that
when she enjoys the affluence of Canaan, she should not in her
self-sufficiency forget her God. To do so could only lead to chaos,
as man exploited man for his own self-gratification. I feel a
sermon coming on.
Canon Phillips is a former headmaster of the King's School,