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Introduction to Deuteronomy
Faithlife Bible Study – Deuteronomy
Deuteronomy concludes the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Bible, with further instruction from Moses, the man who led the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt and received God’s law (see Exodus). In Deuteronomy, Moses reviews teachings and events from the time of the exodus and the people’s wilderness wanderings. He exhorts the Israelites to love their God Yahweh and obey His commandments. Deuteronomy ends with the final events of Moses’ life, including the official appointment of his successor Joshua—the man who formerly encouraged the Israelites to faithfully conquer the promised land despite terrible foes (Num 13–14). Deuteronomy records Moses telling the Israelites how to live in the land long ago promised to their forefather Abraham (Gen 12:1–3)—a land they must still conquer.
Deuteronomy 31:9 indicates Moses’ involvement in writing the law portions of Deuteronomy. For this reason and others, Jewish and Christian traditions ascribe the Pentateuch to Moses, but it may have been completed and edited later (for more information on this debate, see the “Introduction to Genesis”).
Deuteronomy’s narrative is set on the plains of Moab, just across the Jordan River from the promised land, where the Israelites are camping after their 40 years of wilderness wandering—placing it within the same period as the closing chapters of Numbers.
The title “Deuteronomy” means “second law.” The book reiterates the law and the events recorded in Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers. It also establishes a framework for viewing this history: If the Israelites are faithful to God’s covenant, they will have peace and receive blessings from Yahweh, but if they turn away, they will experience curses of war, famine, and death—all of which are meant to prompt them to stay faithful. This framework is applied to subsequent books that narrate Israel’s later history (Joshua, Judges, 1–2 Samuel, 1–2 Kings).
The structure of Deuteronomy resembles ancient Near Eastern treaties between kings and the foreign nations they conquered. In these agreements, both the king and the nation accepted certain obligations; if the nation fulfilled the terms of the treaty, there would be peace. Deuteronomy’s similarities with these ancient documents, examples of which date from the fourteenth to the seventh centuries bc, likely indicate that it originated around the same time.
Deuteronomy has three major sections followed by an epilogue. Each major section presents a speech by Moses and begins with a special phrase marking it as a distinct unit.
The first speech (Deut 1:1–4:43) is introduced with a phrase stating these are “the words.” Moses uses the wilderness journey to teach the Israelites about God. This history shows that Yahweh is faithful to His people and able to overcome their enemies—and that Israel must trust and obey Him. If they do not follow Yahweh’s ways, they will not be able to live long term in the promised land.
Moses’ second speech (4:44–28:68), which is the longest of the three, is introduced with the phrase “this is the law.” After Moses repeats a form of the Ten Commandments (5:6–21), he expands on them in the subsequent chapters.
Moses’ third speech (29:1–30:20) is introduced with the same phrase that opens the first speech. Moses calls the Israelites to renew their covenant with Yahweh. He warns the Israelites that violating the covenant will lead to death, but he also assures them that repenting and trusting God will lead to life and blessing.
The epilogue (31:1–34:12) deals with the end of Moses’ life. Joshua succeeds Moses as leader of the Israelites. Moses sings a farewell song and blesses the people, and his life on this earth ends.
• Moses’ review of history (1:1–4:43)
• Moses’ review of the law (4:44–28:68)
• Moses’ review of the covenant (29:1–30:20)
• Moses’ final words and death (31:1–34:12)
One of the central messages of Deuteronomy is that God loves the Israelites, as seen inHis promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Deuteronomy also indicates that Yahweh showed His love for the Israelites by rescuing them from Egypt and will continue to do so by giving them the promised land. The Israelites should respond to Yahweh’s love by believing He can do anything He asks of them—even overcome dreadful foes in the promised land (31:1–6).
Moses commands the people to love Yahweh with all their heart, soul, and might—a statement Jesus will later call the greatest commandment (Deut 6:5; Matt 22:36–40). As God’s people we are to take courage and boldly embrace whatever He asks us to do, through the power of Christ (Deut 31:6–7; Acts 5). And if we do, we will surely see God at work in our lives, communities, and world.
Deuteronomy 32:8–9 and the Old Testament Worldview
Deuteronomy, Book of LBD