Moses, Preacher of Eternal Life? Exploring the Full Range of Meaning of Deuteronomy’s Life Theme

Life is one of the key theological concepts in the book of Deuteronomy as evidenced by its use as a summary term to convey all the blessings of covenant obedience (30:15, 19) as well as the climactic result of God’s anticipated heart circumcision (30:6). While interpreters have properly understood life in Deuteronomy to frequently refer to the qualitative experience of “the good life,” there has been insufficient appreciation for its range of meaning and nuance beyond physical blessing. This is in part because the most substantial recent studies of Deuteronomy’s life theme have evaluated the term in isolation from the rest of the Pentateuch (Jacobs, Markl, Coetsee). In light of an analysis of all 235 occurrences of חיה in the Pentateuch, this paper will demonstrate that the rhetoric of life in Deuteronomy can refer to three distinct phenomena: (1) physical life, (2) a good (or bad) experience of physical life, i.e., “the good life” that is associated with covenant blessing, and (3) eschatological life, i.e., future life promised to those who love God with a divinely circumcised heart. Such a theology of life according to Deuteronomy reveals a development of the concept of life across the Pentateuch, highlights the issue of divine and human agency, and establishes a frame for understanding the new covenant.

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