THE TRIUMPH OF GRACE IN DEUTERONOMYWritten by Paul A. Barker Reviewed By Benjamin Foreman
In this book the author counters the popular notion that Israel’s success is contingent upon its own adherence to the law. The author argues that it is Yahweh’s own promises to his covenant people Israel which provide the guarantee for survival. Israel, therefore, ‘is to rely on Yahweh, not its own ability’ (47).
The book is divided into three chapters, each of which examines an instance of Israel’s failure and Yahweh’s faithfulness. In his first chapter, the author claims that the prominent position of the account of the spies incident (Deut. 1:19–40) in Deuteronomy creates a sense of pessimism in the book and anticipates the future failure of Israel. However, although Israel is doomed to fall in the future, Israel will succeed, not because of its own merit, but because of Yahweh’s unfailing promises (2:1–3:20). The author says more or less the same thing in chapter 2, stating that the golden calf incident (Deut. 9) sets a negative tone for the chapter and any optimism which we see in the chapter, ‘is entirely a result of confidence in Yahweh, for none is placed in Israel’ (83). Chapter 3, which focuses on Deuteronomy 29–30, is the longest and perhaps most important chapter of the book because Deuteronomy 30:1–14 seems to contradict the author’s thesis by implying that Israel’s restoration is contingent upon her own return to Yahweh (i.e. her adherence to the law). These verses also seem to imply that Israel has the potential to adhere to the commandments of Yahweh. Barker opposes this view by arguing that Deuteronomy 30:6—that Yahweh will circumcise Israel’s heart—is the controlling verse. In other words, only once Yahweh has circumcised Israel’s hearts are his commandments not too difficult. Thus, Barker claims that Deuteronomy 30:6 is the key to the book of Deuteronomy.
The author has done a great job in establishing his thesis and developing it. The book is very well researched, clearly written and offers solid, theological conclusions to some of the tensions found in Deuteronomy.
One drawback to the book (one which the author himself admits to) is the failure to bring the legal section (chs 12–26) into the discussion. While time and space are always an issue, nevertheless, the title of the book begs the question, ‘Does the author’s thesis hold true to the whole book of Deuteronomy or only to certain sections?’ The way has been paved for such an investigation in the future.
Secondly, perhaps better care could have been taken to define exactly what the author means by the phrase ‘Abrahamic covenant’. For example, the author states that ‘the grounds for future hope and restoration expressed in 30:1–10 lie not just with Yahweh’s grace in general, but specifically with Yahweh’s faithfulness to the Abrahamic covenant’ (173): Further on, however, the author claims that Paul understood Deuteronomy correctly when he states (Rom. 2:29) that Christ was the fulfilment of the future hope and restoration expressed in 30:1–10 (196). Is the author implying that Christ was the fulfilment of the Abrahamic covenant? How was Christ a fulfilment of Deuteronomy’s prediction of a return from exile (Deut. 30:1–10)? How does a promise of land seed and blessing motivate God to declare Israel righteous? More clarity could have been made on the issue.
In spite of these minor criticisms, the book is very compelling and well-founded Scholars and students interested in the theological study of Deuteronomy would benefit greatly from this read.