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Survey of the Book of Deuteronomy

Author: Most scholars agree that Moses was the author of Deuteronomy. At the very least, his recorded words make up most of the book.

Date: Deuteronomy is unlike the rest of the Pentateuch in that it is more of a speech or a sermon given at one point in time than a narrative that spans many years. Some scholars believe Deuteronomy is a collection of teachings given over forty days just prior to Moses' death (Deuteronomy 34:8; Joshua 4:19). Moses' address began on the first day of the eleventh month of the fortieth year the Israelites were in the wilderness (Deuteronomy 1:3). This was likely in the year 1406 BC.

Purpose: The book of Numbers ends with the Israelites in the plains of Moab. The new generation has been counted and they are preparing to enter the Promised Land. Deuteronomy is set in this moment. This new generation consisted of Israelites who were under the age of twenty when the exodus occurred, as well as all the Israelites born in the forty years since then. Joshua and Caleb, who had been part of the exodus, would also be going into the Promised Land. The majority of this new generation had not witnessed the miracles of the exodus or God giving the Israelites His Law at Mount Sinai. Thus, Moses needed to prepare them with what God had done and said to the Israelites up to this point. Deuteronomy concludes the Torah with this speech from Moses.

Key verses:
"You shall not add to the word that I command you, nor take from it, that you may keep the commandments of the LORD your God that I command you" (Deuteronomy 4:2).

"Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates" (Deuteronomy 6:4–9).

"For you are a people holy to the LORD your God. The LORD your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the LORD set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but it is because the LORD loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers, that the LORD has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt. Know therefore that the LORD your God is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, to a thousand generations" (Deuteronomy 7:6–9).

"He said to them, 'Take to heart all the words by which I am warning you today, that you may command them to your children, that they may be careful to do all the words of this law'" (Deuteronomy 32:46).

Themes: One of the most obvious themes of Deuteronomy is the theme of blessing and cursing, and within this theme is hidden a foreshadow of what Jesus would do. Moses set a choice before the Israelites: if they obeyed the Lord and followed Him and kept His commandments, they would be blessed, but if they rejected God and followed after other gods, they would bring upon themselves horrible curses. Moses gives a very simple to understand commandment, to love God with all your heart, soul, and might (Deuteronomy 6:4–5). However, Moses knows that his people will not be able to do this, even with a stark warning against choosing the curse of rejecting God's love and commandments.

The Israelites needed more than just a warning to do good; they needed a heart change. Moses prophesies a day when His people will be able to love God more fully, a day when people's hearts and not just their bodies would be circumcised: "the LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live" (Deuteronomy 30:6). This was fulfilled after Jesus paid the price of our sins on the cross. All who put their faith in Jesus are indwelled by the Holy Spirit, "and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit" (Romans 2:29).

The New Testament book of Hebrews compares the old covenant, recorded in the Torah, with the new covenant in Jesus Christ. Hebrews 10 explains, "For since the law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered every year, make perfect those who draw near … And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified. And the Holy Spirit also bears witness to us; for after saying, 'This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my laws on their hearts, and write them on their minds,' then he adds, 'I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.' Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin" (Hebrews 10:1–18).

Brief Summary: Deuteronomy is a speech given to the Israelites as they are about to enter the Promised Land. Deuteronomy means "second law" or "repetition of the law." It seems that particular name might have risen from a mistranslation in the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Old Testament), but the title fits because much of Deuteronomy is Moses explaining the Law, also given in other books of the Torah, to a new generation of Israelites.

The first section in chapters 1—11 is a somber summary of Israel's rebellion and resistance of the last forty years, as well as the Ten Commandments and reminders of God's faithfulness to them in the wilderness. The summary ends with Moses urging them to consider the mighty hand of God and walk in obedience in order to live within God's blessings: "See, I am setting before you today a blessing and a curse: the blessing, if you obey the commandments of the LORD your God, which I command you today, and the curse, if you do not obey the commandments of the LORD your God, but turn aside from the way that I am commanding you today, to go after other gods that you have not known" (Deuteronomy 11:26–28).

In the second section in chapters 12—26, Moses takes the time to explain the Law. This includes things such as destroying the high places where pagan idols were worshipped in the lands they will overtake. Once they had settled in the land God gave them, the Israelites were to worship God in the specific place He chose and give offerings there. Moses told them, "You shall not do according to all that we are doing here today, everyone doing whatever is right in his own eyes … But when you go over the Jordan and live in the land that the LORD your God is giving you to inherit, and when he gives you rest from all your enemies around … then to the place that the LORD your God will choose, to make his name dwell there, there you shall bring all that I command you: your burnt offerings and your sacrifices, your tithes and the contribution that you present, and all your finest vow offerings that you vow to the LORD. And you shall rejoice before the LORD your God" (Deuteronomy 12:8–12). The book of Exodus contains specific instructions for how the tabernacle, and later the temple, was to be set up.

The Israelites were forbidden from worshipping other gods and warned against those who would entice them to do so. False prophets were to be put to death. The Israelites were also given specific dietary laws. Too, Moses gave laws about tithing, canceling debts, and freeing servants. He detailed various feasts such as the Passover, the Feast of Weeks, and the Feast of Tabernacles. There are laws about offerings, cities of refuge, witnesses in legal cases, going to war, marriage, and even how to handle skin diseases. Many talk about the Old Testament law in the divisions of moral law, ceremonial law, and civil law. Indeed, Deuteronomy contains commands that would fit into each of these categories.

Chapter 18 includes an important messianic prophesy: "The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers—it is to him you shall listen"(Deuteronomy 18:15). This prophecy was, of course, fulfilled by Jesus (John 1:45; 6:14; 7:40).

In chapters 27—34 Moses ends his speech explaining the blessing of following God and the curses that will follow living in rebellion, calling for the Israelites to repent and choose life. He told the Israelites that, when they had crossed the Jordan, half of the tribes were to stand on Mount Gerizim to pronounce blessing and the other half on Mount Ebal to pronounce curses. Moses details the blessings for obedience and the curses for disobedience (Deuteronomy 27—28). Moses told the people to carefully follow the covenant. He predicted their inability to do so, and said, "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 among all the nations where the Lord your God has driven you, and return 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, then the Lord your God will restore your fortunes and have mercy on you, and he will gather you again from all the peoples where the Lord your God has scattered you. If your outcasts are in the uttermost parts of heaven, from there the Lord your God will gather you, and from there he will take you. And the Lord your God will bring you into the land that your fathers possessed, that you may possess it. And he will make you more prosperous and numerous than your fathers. And the Lord your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live" (Deuteronomy 30:1–6).

Moses also instates Joshua, one of the very few faithful of the first generation, as the one who will succeed him and lead the Israelites into the Promised Land, telling him to be strong and courageous in the Lord (Deuteronomy 31:6). Deuteronomy 31:9 says, "Then Moses wrote this law and gave it to the priests, the sons of Levi, who carried the ark of the covenant of the Lord, and to all the elders of Israel." Moses instructed the Levites and elders to read the law aloud to the Israelites—men, women, children, and sojourners among them—every seven years at the Feast of Booths "that they may hear and learn to fear the LORD your God, and be careful to do all the words of this law, and that their children, who have not known it, may hear and learn to fear the LORD your God, as long as you live in the land that you are going over the Jordan to possess" (Deuteronomy 31:12–13).

God tells Moses that he will soon die and asks Moses and Joshua to come to the tent of meeting for Joshua to be commissioned. God tells Moses that the people will rebel and many disasters will come upon them. He gives Moses a song to write down as a witness (the Song of Moses, recorded in Deuteronomy 32). God also told Joshua, "Be strong and courageous, for you shall bring the people of Israel into the land that I swore to give them. I will be with you" (Deuteronomy 31:23). Moses and Joshua come before the people, and Moses recites the song to them. He tells them, "Take to heart all the words by which I am warning you today, that you may command them to your children, that they may be careful to do all the words of this law. For it is no empty word for you, but your very life, and by this word you shall live long in the land that you are going over the Jordan to possess" (Deuteronomy 32:45–47). Deuteronomy 32 then records God calling Moses up to Mount Nebo. Deuteronomy 33 records Moses' blessing on the twelve tribes of Israel before his death.

Deuteronomy 34 records the death of Moses, a portion of Deuteronomy often credited to Joshua. Moses dies after going to the top of Mount Nebo and seeing the Promised Land stretched before him. "Moses was 120 years old when he died. His eye was undimmed, and his vigor unabated. And the people of Israel wept for Moses in the plains of Moab thirty days" (Deuteronomy 34:7–8). God Himself buried Moses (Deuteronomy 34:5–6).

Practical Application: Many of the Israelites' failures through their history stemmed from forgetting God's law and His faithfulness. Moses made sure that the next generation would know who God was and what He had done, and His calling on their lives to obey and conquer the land and receive His blessing. Throughout the book, Moses urges the Israelites to teach the Law to their children, to have it written throughout their homes, presiding over everything they did. While the Mosaic law does not apply to us the same way it did to the Israelites, it is still relevant to our lives. And teaching our children about God and His ways is certainly a practice we need to follow today (Ephesians 6:4). The Bible is not just stories or instructions, but the inspired Word of God. Moses said the words of the Law were "your very life." The same is true for us (2 Timothy 3:16–17). We need to be diligent to keep God's Word before us and to teach our children about God so that they, too, may have a personal relationship with Him through Jesus Christ.

Jesus showed us one of the most important parts of Deuteronomy when He said, "The most important [commandment] is, 'Hear O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.' The second is this: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no other commandment greater than these" (Mark 12:29–31). Christians today have the ability to fulfill this commandment in a way that the Israelites were not able to, because we have seen the fulfillment of Deuteronomy 30:6. Jesus has fulfilled the Law (Matthew 5:17) and made the one time sacrifice that forgives our sin (Hebrews 10:10; Romans 5:12–21). God has given us changed hearts: by His Spirit, He has circumcised the hearts of all who accept Jesus' sacrifice on their behalf through faith (Ephesians 2:1–22; 2 Corinthians 5:17–21; Romans 2:25–29; Colossians 2:11–15). God Himself gives us the power to love Him with all of our heart, with all of our soul, and with all of our mind, and to love others with His love, as He continually works to sanctify us (Romans 8:28–39; Philippians 2:12–13; John 15:1–17).


Related Truth:

Survey of the Book of Genesis

Survey of the Book of Exodus

Survey of the Book of Leviticus

Survey of the Book of Numbers

What is the basic timeline of the Old Testament?


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