The Book of Deuteronomy
The book of Deuteronomy locates Moses and the Israelites in the territory of Moab in the area where the Jordan flows in the Dead Sea (1:15). As his final act at this important time of transferring leadership to Joshua, Moses delivered his farewell addresses to prepare the people for their entrance into Canaan. These addresses were actually a covenant renewal. Moses emphasized the laws that were especially needed at such a time, and he presented them in a way appropriate to the situation.
The focal point of the book is the law code stated in chapters 12-26. Since it is identical with the covenant law code of Exodus 20-23, the Book of Deuteronomy is called the “second law” (=deutero+nomos in Greek). Thus, it is the rehearsal of covenant for a new generation of Israelites just before the conquest. Some of its emphases are: the oneness and uniqueness of Yahweh, the God of Israel, over against all other gods; Yahweh’s covenant love for Israel in making them his people; Yahweh’s universal sovereignty over all peoples; Israel as Yahweh’s model for the nations; the significance of the central sanctuary where Yahweh is to be worshiped; Yahweh’s concern for justice – that his people reflect his character; the blessings of obedience and the dangers of disobedience.
For at least two centuries now, scholars have known that Deuteronomy did not come from the same time as the rest of the Pentateuch, and that it actually reflects a writer or writers who look back from a much later time to the days of Moses and the conquest. The book makes a call to return to the proper obedience to the covenant, a tradition distinct to Moses. The authors were able to get their message across by effectively putting the warnings in the mouth of the great founder himself – a very common method of writing in the ancient world. The purpose is not an attempt to deceive, but to link a writer’s religious teaching to its real, and much more ancient source and authority. They authors of the book intended to present a program of religious reform that would restore the obedience to the covenant the way Moses taught it.
Outline of the Book of Deuteronomy
1:1-3:29 Historical Prologue
1:1-5 The Preamble
1:6-18 The Appointment of Leaders (because Moses is deprived of entrance to Canaan)
1:19-46 A reminder of wasted opportunity and rebellion in Kadesh
2:1-3:29 A reminder of God’s being with them nonetheless and bringing them to where they are now.
4:1-43 Introduction to the Great Exhortation
12-14 The Introduction
15-31 God’s Uniqueness
32-38 God’s choice of Israel
25-31 The prophecy of Israel’s eventual failure and restoration
4:44-11:32 The Great Exhortation
5:1-21 The Ten Commandments
5:22-33 A reminder of Moses’ mediatorial role at Horeb/Sinai
6:1-25 The primary commandment: Total love for Yahweh, their God
7:1-26 The Need to destroy the Canaanites so that Israel will not succumb to syncretism
8:1-20 Moses urged the people not to forget God
9:1-6 The gift of bountiful land has nothing to do with the people’s righteousness
9:7-29 Israel’s history of stubbornness
10:1-11:32 The final section
12:1-26:19 The Deuteronomic Code
12:1-16:17 Laws governing worship
16:18-18:22 Laws Governing Leadership
19:1-25:19 Laws Governing Community Life
27:1-30:20 The Covenant Ceremony
31:1-34:12 The Look Forward
The outstanding feature of Deuteronomy’s style is that, although put in the mouth of Moses,the homilies are directed at a people living long after the exodus events, people who are urged to recall and keep the the teachings of Moses. It looks back on the conquest of Canaan as a completed event, and its legal ideas presuppose the highly developed government set up by David and his son Solomon. The authors of this book are not looking forward but rather looking backward from deep in the time of the monarchy.
Deuteronomy brings the Pentateuch to a conclusion with its constant reminders of God’s love and faithfulness despite his people’s constant rebellion, but final word is one of hope that God will ultimately prevail with his people.
Boadt, Lawrence. reading the Old Testament. An Introduction. Makati City, Philippines: St. Pauls, 2003.
Fee, Gordon D. How To read the Bible Book by Book. A Guided Tour.Metro Manila, Philippines: OMF Literature, Inc., 2004.
Zondervan NASB Study Bible. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1999.