A Biblical Theology of Repentance, part 3

Earlier this week, I began posting portions of a paper I wrote for my Biblical Theology course titled, “That Times of Refreshing May Come: A Biblical Theology of Repentance.” This is the third installment of a multi-post series. Part one can be found here and part two here. The following is part three:

The Covenant in Deuteronomy

The book of Deuteronomy has as its setting the succeeding generation of Israel posed in the plains of Moab, across the Jordan river, to enter the land of promise. Moses gives a series of farewell speeches recapitulating the covenant with yhwh and his people. Scholars have noted the Deuteronomy resembles other ancient near Eastern treaties in structure.[1] The general requirement of the covenant in Deuteronomy could be summarized in its famous, almost creedal verse, the Shema:

Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. 5 You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. 6 And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart (Deut 6:4–6).

After expanding on the covenant requirements of the people of God, the book of Deuteronomy closes with a series of blessings for obedience (Deut 28:1–14) followed with curses for disobedience (Deut 28:15–68). The results of the curse included, among other things, the exile of God’s people from the land of promise.

What is somewhat unique to Deuteronomy, however, is the offer of forgiveness for those who “return” to yhwh with all their heart:

And when all these things come upon you, the blessing and the curse, which I have set before you, and you call them to mind [shuv][2] among all the nations where the LORD your God has driven you, 2 and return [shuv] to the LORD your God, you and your children, and obey his voice in all that I command you today, with all your heart and with all your soul, 3 then the LORD your God will restore your fortunes and have compassion on you, and he will gather you again from all the peoples where the LORD your God has scattered you (Deut 30:1–3).

Despite the people’s anticipated future rejection of God and their turning away from him, and thus incurring the curse of exile, the LORD offers a way back. This offer is conditioned on their turning back to yhwh. This turning is also said to be close to wherever they are: “But the word is very near you. It is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can do it” (Deut 30:14).

Thus, Torah crescendos with the covenantal blessings and curses. The pinnacle of these is the call for God’s covenant people to make a decision: life and blessing, curse and death  with the appeal for the people to “choose life” (Deut 30:19). Torah fittingly closes with the call to repent and the offer of forgiveness.

[1] Cf. J. A. Thompson, Deuteronomy: An Introduction and Commentary (TOTC 5; IVP/Accordance electronic ed. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1974), 19-26. He surveys the important works of G. E. Mendenhall, Law and Covenant in Israel and the Ancient Near East (1955), and Meredith G. Kline, Treaty of the Great King (1963).

[2] The Hebrew phrase, wahashevota ’el-levavekha, is lit. “and you return [shuv] them to your heart.” Cf. Duane L. Christensen, Deuteronomy 21:10–34:12 (WBC 6B; Accordance/Thomas Nelson electronic ed. Waco: Word books, 2002), 738.

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