If Leviticus is about God dwelling with His people, Deuteronomy is a book about His children bearing His image. Deuteronomy is about God calling His people back to reflect Him and His glory. What do a people who are set apart to God look and act like?
At first, God’s instructions for setting His children apart seem weird. They are mostly out of our frame of reference. It helps to remember that, at the point Deuteronomy was written in the history of humanity, civilization was not very civilized. God’s children were to be different than the unbelieving cultures around them. They were to be separate spiritually, and they were to be separate physically. God set His children apart with instructions that, if obeyed, would make them the most civilized nation of their time in terms of sanitation, general safety, and care of the poor, down to bannisters on their rooftops to prevent accidents and specific instructions on what to do with people with issues of blood or other bodily fluids to prevent contamination.
Despite the great detail of instruction given in Deuteronomy, including many laws for which we no longer have a context in our modern culture, Moses boils down the point of these instructions in Deuteronomy 6:5.
5 You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.
Jesus later clarifies for us that this statement, coupled with Leviticus 19:18’s on loving your neighbor as yourself, actually sums up the law and the prophets. Deuteronomy gives many laws which with care and thought we can recognize as practical actions of a people who love their God with all of their heart and who love their neighbor as themselves, treating them with deference and respect. This is image bearing.
The problem is that Deuteronomy, along with subsequent books of the Old Testament, also shows that God’s children could not meet the standards of the law on their own. They repeatedly failed to love God and love their neighbor as the law fleshed out for them. They didn’t bear out God’s image well. So what then was the point of the law?
Paul clarifies then for us in Galatians the role the law in Deuteronomy served to bring us to Christ.
19 Why then the law? It was added because of transgressions, until the offspring should come to whom the promise had been made, and it was put in place through angels by an intermediary. 20 Now an intermediary implies more than one, but God is one.
21 Is the law then contrary to the promises of God? Certainly not! For if a law had been given that could give life, then righteousness would indeed be by the law. 22 But the Scripture imprisoned everything under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.
23 Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. 24 So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. 25 But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian,
Paul says the law was our guardian until Christ came, and God’s children were justified by faith. There was something about the law that protected God’s children from themselves and directed them toward God. It was a guardian. But a guardian is only a temporary fix. It’s a middle man, standing in place of the better parent. Christ has come. He did not abolish the law, but He fulfilled it. The result for believers is that we should not despise the law. Instead, we should seek to learn from it. What was this guardian showing us about our better parent? While many instructions in Deuteronomy may feel unfamiliar to us today, with careful examination we can see the image bearing value of the law and understand better what it means to love our God and love our neighbor in tangible ways.