The Sovereignty of God on Display in Deuteronomy

The Sovereignty of God on Display in Deuteronomy

 Mt. Gerizim and Mt. Ebal, the place where Moses preached the book of Deuteronomy ( Source ).

Mt. Gerizim and Mt. Ebal, the place where Moses preached the book of Deuteronomy (Source).

In Deuteronomy God is center-stage. The book is really a long sermon from Moses to the people of Israel, but Moses talks about God in language not found anywhere else. God’s sovereignty is foregrounded as Moses recounts to Israel the way things are, the way the world works, and the way they must live in order to receive God’s blessing. Deuteronomy is the constitution for Israel, their legal document which points them to how to live a successful life in their theocratic state. The purpose of the book is to put God on a pedestal to be examined next to every other ancient near-eastern god, and so in Deuteronomy we find some of the most powerful theologies about God and His sovereignty.

God is Over All

He chose the nation of Israel to be a holy people in an unholy world. The word for election is used twenty-nine times in Deuteronomy, emphasizing the sovereignty in God’s choice of Israel apart from any special merit of their own (Deut 7:6-8).1 He is shown to be the “God of gods and the Lord of lords” (Deut 10:17), and the only truly living God (Deut 5:23). YHWH is proven to be the highest God and supreme Lord over all things, over Israel, and even over the pagan nations of the world. He is the highest of the high in the universe.2 In proving this, Deuteronomy excludes all other gods indefinitely, becoming the first book to really deny the existence and refute the belief in false gods. Monotheism, the worship of one single God, is clearly on display in Deuteronomy and is concisely defined in Deuteronomy 4:32-40. However, the main thrust of God being the only supreme God is that He is therefore capable and actually in the process of controlling every detail and aspect of the universe, even on a personal level.3

An Outline of His Sovereignty

Every single action that happened to Israel, and directly or indirectly to the rest of the world, is shown to be initiated and executed by the sovereign Adonai himself.4 The following is a list of references that go with different actions in Deuteronomy where God declares himself to be the fundamental power that drives every action in the universe:

  • God provided the land: (Deut 1:8, 20, 21; 2:12; 3:18; 4:1, 21, 38, 40; 6:10, 23; 7:1; 8:7, 10; 11:29; 12:1, 9, 10, 15, 20, 21; 15:4, 7; 16:5; 16:17, 20; 17:2, 14; 18:9; 19:8; 21:1; 25:19; 26:1; 27:2, 3).
  • He multiplied Israel: (Deut 1:10; 7:13; 9:14; 10:22; 13:17; 30:5).
  • He delivered them from Egypt: (Deut 1:27; 4:20, 34, 37; 5:6, 15; 6:21, 23; 7:19; 8:14; 9:29; 13:5, 10; 15:15; 16:1; 24:18; 26:8; 29:22).
  • He fights for them: (Deut 1:30; 2:15, 21, 22, 24, 31, 33; 3:2, 3, 22; 4:3; 7:2, 22, 23; 8:20; 9:3, 4; 11:3, 4; 11:23; 12:29; 19:1; 20:1, 4, 13; 21:10; 28:7).
  • He protects and provides: (Deut 1:31; 4:4; 8:15, 16; 10:21).
  • He chooses and controls the destiny of individuals: (Deut 1:35; 10:8, 10; 18:15; 31:3).
  • He commands and directs the paths of men: (Deut 2:2; 11:5; 18:5; 32:8, 12).
  • He blesses them: (Deut 2:7; 7:13, 14, 15; 9:14; 10:13; 11:27; 14:29; 15:6, 10, 14; 16:10; 24:19; 26:19; 28:8, 11, 12, 13; 30:16).
  • He controls the minds of Israel’s enemies: (Deut 2:25).
  • He controls the hearts of men: (Deut 2:30).
  • He provides rest: (Deut 3:20; 12:10; 25:19).
  • He controls Israel’s position on the globe: (Deut 4:27; 8:2, 15).
  • He chooses whom He blesses: (Deut 4:37; 7:6, 8; 9:6; 10:15).
  • He alone is God: (Deut 4:39).
  • He is the covenant maker: (Deut 5:2; 10:15; 14:2; 26:18; 28:9; 29:13; 32:6, 10).
  • He controls sickness: (Deut 7:15).
  • He uses circumstances to humble: (Deut 8:2, 3, 16).
  • He sustains life: (Deut 8:3, 32:39; 33:29).
  • He controls entropy: (Deut 8:4).
  • He gives power to function: (Deut 8:18).
  • He executes justice: (Deut 10:18; 11:6; 29:23; 31:4).
  • He gives and takes away rain: (Deut 11:14, 17).
  • He gives grass: (Deut 11:15).
  • He curses: (Deut 11:28; 28:20, 21, 22, 24, 25, 27-32, 48, 49, 61, 63, 64, 65; 29:23, 28; 30:1, 3, 7).
  • He makes powerless: (Deut 28:32).
  • He chooses the place where the Israelites would worship Him: (Deut 12:5, 11, 14, 18, 21; 14:23, 24, 25; 15:20; 16:2, 6, 7, 11, 15, 16; 17:8, 10; 18:6; 26:2).
  • He chooses their king: (Deut 17:15).
  • He restores: (Deut 30:3, 4).
  • He gives the ability to love Him: (Deut 30:6).
  • He controls death: (Deut 31:14, 32:39).
  • He ordained pagan idol worship: (Deut 4:19).

This list is daunting. We absolutely underestimate the intimacy of God’s control over life, or at least I do. I think it’s typical of Calvinists to think they understand the sovereignty of God while the Arminians among us think they understand the free will of man, but the truth is those are two sides to the same coin. For example, God gives us the ability to love Him (Deut 30:6) and yet He also commands us to choose to love Him (Deut 6:5—cf. Matt 22:37; Mark 12:30; Luke 10:27). It seems to be contradictory, but they both are true. God is absolutely sovereign and yet we are absolutely responsible for our actions. I’ve written about compatibilism before, so I won’t go more into that here, but let’s just focus our minds again on the God of Deuteronomy.

The God of the Israelites shows himself to be the only God in the universe by actually proving it—by speaking, prophesying and promising, then by following up perfectly with what He said in thousands of years of history. This is in absolute contrast to the false gods of the day who could not communicate or prove anything. God orchestrates every action by his omnipotence to bring about his will in the world, and He used the nation of Israel to display that to the world in time and space with perfect clarity. In His reign over the world, His attributes are put on display, and in the book of Deuteronomy, we get the central exposition of how that happens, lest we foolish little creatures should miss it.

  1. Horst Deitrich Preuss, Old Testament Theology. 1991 (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press), 28. ↩︎
  2. Christopher Wright, New International Biblical Commentary on Deuteronomy. 1996 (Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, Inc.),148. ↩︎
  3. Jeffrey H. Tigay, The JPS Torah Commentary on Deuteronomy. 1996 (Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society), 433. ↩︎
  4. Franklin Weigner, Biblical Theology of the Old Testament. 1886 (Chicago), 44. ↩︎

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