Introduction to the Book of Deuteronomy

Introduction to the Book of Deuteronomy

Moses Views the Promised Land. Hulton Archive / Getty Images

Deuteronomy means "second law." It is a retelling of the covenant between God and his people Israel, presented in three addresses or sermons by Moses.

Written as the Israelites are to enter the Promised Land, Deuteronomy is a stern reminder that God is worthy of worship and obedience. His laws are given to us for our protection, not as punishment.

As we read Deuteronomy and meditate on it, the relevance of this 3,500-year-old book is startling. In it, God tells people that obeying him brings blessings and goodness, and disobeying him brings disaster. The consequences of using illegal drugs, breaking the law, and living an immoral life are proof that this warning still rings true today.

Deuteronomy is the last of the five books of Moses, called the Pentateuch. These God-inspired accounts, Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy, begin at Creation and end with the death of Moses. They detail God's covenant relationship with the Jewish people that is woven throughout the Old Testament.

Author of the Book of Deuteronomy:

Moses, Joshua (Deuteronomy 34:5-12).

Date Written:

About 1406-7 B.C.

Written To:

The generation of Israel about to enter the Promised Land, and all subsequent Bible readers.

Landscape of the Book of Deuteronomy:

Written on the east side of the Jordan River, within view of Canaan.

Themes in the Book of Deuteronomy:

History of God's Help - Moses reviewed God's miraculous help in freeing the Israelite people from slavery in Egypt and the people's repeated disobedience. Looking back, the people were able to see how rejecting God always brought calamity upon them.

Review of the Law - The people entering Canaan were bound by the same laws of God as their parents. They had to renew this contract or covenant with God before entering the Promised Land. Scholars note that Deuteronomy is structured as a treaty between a king and his vassals, or subjects, in that time period. It represents a formal agreement between God and his people Israel.

God's Love Motivates Him - God loves his people as a father loves his children, but he also disciplines them when they disobey. God does not want a nation of spoiled brats! God's love is an emotional, heart-love, not just a legalistic, conditional love.

God Gives Freedom of Choice - People are free to obey or disobey God, but they should also know they are responsible for the consequences. A contract, or covenant, requires obedience, and God expects nothing less.

Children Must be Taught - To keep the covenant, the people must instruct their children in God's ways and be sure they follow them. This responsibility continues through every generation. When this teaching becomes lax, trouble begins.

Key Characters in the Book of Deuteronomy:

Moses, Joshua.

Key Verses:

Deuteronomy 6:4-5
Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. (NIV)

Deuteronomy 7:9
Know therefore that the LORD your God is God; he is the faithful God, keeping his covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love him and keep his commandments. (NIV)

Deuteronomy 34:5-8
And Moses the servant of the LORD died there in Moab, as the LORD had said. He buried him in Moab, in the valley opposite Beth Peor, but to this day no one knows where his grave is. Moses was a hundred and twenty years old when he died, yet his eyes were not weak nor his strength gone. The Israelites grieved for Moses in the plains of Moab thirty days, until the time of weeping and mourning was over. (NIV)

Outline of the Book of Deuteronomy:

  • Moses Gives his First Speech About Israel's History - Deuteronomy 1:6-4:43.
  • Moses Gives his Second Speech About Basic Requirements of the Law - Deuteronomy 4:44-11:32.
  • Moses Continues his Second Speech on Detailed Requirements of the Law - Deuteronomy 12:1-26:19.
  • Moses Gives his Third Speech Relating Blessings and Curses - Deuteronomy 27:1-28:68.
  • Moses Continues his Third Speech with Warnings and Encouragement - Deuteronomy 29:1-30:20.
  • Commissioning of Joshua and Moses' Final Words - Deuteronomy 31:1-34:12.