Introduction to Deuteronomy
Deuteronomy, the final book in the Pentateuch, contains Moses’ last three sermons and two prophetic poems about Israel’s future. Reflecting on the nation’s past mistakes, Moses urges the people not to repeat those errors when they enter the Promised Land. Possessing Canaan will fulfill the promises made to the patriarchs, but if the people fall into idolatry or fail to keep the law, they will be exiled.
Purpose and Background
Deuteronomy is largely a sermon, or set of sermons, preached by Moses to all of Israel shortly before his death. It is a motivational sermon, urging Israel’s faithful obedience to the covenant laws given 40 years previously at Sinai (Exodus 19–40).
The sermon is especially important because of Israel’s earlier failure to conquer the land (see Deut. 1:19–46). Now that they are back at the eastern border of the Promised Land, Moses wants to ensure that the people will be obedient this time. The sermon encourages obedience by constantly reassuring them of God’s faithfulness and his power to keep his promises. God is still faithful, despite Israel’s persistent sin (e.g., 1:19–46; 9:1–29). He is merciful to his sinful people, for the sake of his promises to Abraham.
In Deuteronomy, Moses urges Israel to trust and obey, and to conquer the land. He highlights God’s uniqueness (e.g., ch. 4), his power over other nations and armies (e.g., 2:1–23), and his grace and faithfulness. He reminds the people that God promised the land, that God’s gift of the land is undeserved (9:4–6), and that the land is full of good things (e.g., 6:10–12).
Moses emphasizes the importance of God’s law, given at Sinai (e.g., see 5:1–3). The large central section of Deuteronomy (12:1–26:19) recites the law and urges Israel to keep it. The law is wide-ranging, incorporating all areas of life (economics, family and sexual relationships, religious observance, leadership, justice, guidance, food, property, and warfare). The details of the laws expand upon the great command of 6:5, that Israel is to love the Lord with all its heart, soul, and strength. Chapters 12–16 show what such total love of God will look like and provide examples of what the Ten Commandments (ch. 5) mean in practice.
- God’s uniqueness (4:1–40).
- Israel’s election (4:37–38; 7:6–8; 10:14–15; 14:2).
- The land’s goodness (1:25; 6:10–11; 8:7–13; 11:8–15).
- God’s faithful promise-keeping (1:8, 19–46; 7:1–26; 8:1–20; 9:1–10:11).
- God’s power to defeat the enemies in the land (2:1–3:11; 4:1–40; 7:1–26).
- Exhortations to Israel to love, serve, fear, and obey God (6:5; 10:12–13; 13:4).
- Warnings against idolatry and instruction for proper worship of God (4:9–31; 5:6–10; 7:1–5; 8:19–20; 12:1–32; 13:1–18).
- The impact of God’s laws (12:1–27:26).
- Moses’ imminent death (1:37; 3:26; 4:21; 32:51; 34:1–12).
- Prologue (1:1–5)
- Moses’ First Speech: Historical Prologue (1:6–4:43)
- Moses’ Second Speech: General Covenant Stipulations (4:44–11:32)
- Moses’ Second Speech: Specific Covenant Stipulations (12:1–26:19)
- Moses’ Third Speech: Blessings and Curses (27:1–28:68)
- Moses’ Third Speech: Final Exhortation (29:1–30:20)
- Succession of Leadership (31:1–34:12)
The Setting of Deuteronomy
c. 1406 b.c.
The book of Deuteronomy records Moses’ words to the Israelites as they waited on the plains of Moab to enter Canaan. Moses begins by reviewing the events of Israel’s journey from Mount Sinai to the plains of Moab.