Who wrote it?
Moses wrote the book of Deuteronomy, which is in fact a collection of his sermons to Israel just before they crossed the Jordan River. “These are the words that Moses spoke” (1:1). Someone else (Joshua, perhaps) may have written the last chapter (seeing as it recounts Moses’ death).
When(ish) was it written?
These sermons were given during the 40-day period prior to Israel’s entering the Promised Land. The first sermon was delivered on the first day of the 11th month (1:3), and the Israelites crossed the Jordan 70 days later, on the tenth day of the first month (Joshua 4:19). Subtract 30 days of mourning after Moses’ death (Deuteronomy 34:8), and we’re left with 40 days. The year was 1406 BC.
Why was it written?
A new generation of Israelites was about to enter the Promised Land. This population had not experienced the miracle at the Red Sea or heard the Law given at Sinai, and they were about to enter a new land with many dangers and temptations. The book of Deuteronomy was given to remind them of God’s law and God’s power.
Some Key Verses
[quote] 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 [/quote]
[quote] 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.
– Deuteronomy 6:4-7 [/quote]
[quote] 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. 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 32:46-47 [/quote]
A Quick Summary
The Israelites are commanded to remember four things: God’s faithfulness, God’s holiness, God’s blessings, and God’s warnings. The first three chapters recap the trip from Egypt to their current location, Moab. Chapter 4 is a call to obedience, to be faithful to the God who was faithful to them.
Chapters 5 through 26 are a repetition of the Law. The Ten Commandments, the Laws concerning sacrifices and specials days, and the rest of the Law are given to the new generation. Blessings are promised to those who obey (5:29; 6:17-19; 11:13-15), and famine is promised to those who break the Law (11:16-17).
The theme of blessing and cursing is continued in chapters 27-30. This portion of the book ends with a clear choice set before Israel: “I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse.” God’s desire for His people is found in what Moses recommends: “choose life” (30:19).
In the final chapters, Moses encourages the people, commissions his replacement Joshua, records a song; and gives a final blessing to each of the tribes of Israel. Chapter 34 relates the circumstances of Moses’ death. He climbed Mt. Pisgah, where the Lord showed him the Promised Land that he could not enter. At 120 years old, but still with good eyesight and the strength of youth, Moses died in the presence of the Lord. The book of Deuteronomy ends with a short obituary on this great prophet.
Many New Testament themes are present in the book of Deuteronomy. The foremost among them is the necessity of keeping perfectly the Law and the impossibility of doing so. The endless sacrifices necessary to atone for the sins of the people—who continually disobeyed the Law—would find their fulfillment in the final “once for all” sacrifice of Christ (Hebrews 10:10). Because of Jesus’ atoning work on the cross, we need no further sacrifices for sin.
God’s choosing of the Israelites as His special people foreshadows His choosing of those who would believe in Christ (1 Peter 2:9). In Deuteronomy 18:15-19, Moses prophesies of another prophet—the ultimate Prophet to come who is the Messiah. Like Moses, He would receive and preach divine revelation and He would lead His people (John 6:14; 7:40).
What does this mean?
The book of Deuteronomy underscores the importance of God’s Word. It is a vital part of our lives. Although we are no longer under the Old Testament law, we are still responsible to submit to the will of God in our lives. Simple obedience brings blessing, and sin has its own consequences.
None of us is “above the Law.” Even Moses, the leader and prophet chosen by God, was required to obey. The reason that he was not allowed to enter the Promised Land was that he disobeyed the Lord’s clear command (Numbers 20:13).
During the time of His testing in the wilderness, Jesus quoted from the book of Deuteronomy three times (Matthew 4). In so doing, Jesus illustrated for us the necessity of hiding God’s Word in our hearts that we might not sin against Him (Psalm 119:11).
Just as Israel remembered God’s faithfulness, so should we. The crossing of the Red Sea, the holy presence at Sinai, and the blessing of manna in the desert should be an encouragement to us as well. A great way to keep going forward is to take some time to look back and see what God has done (in your life, in the lives of others, and in these recorded histories).
We also have a beautiful picture in Deuteronomy of a loving God who desires a relationship with His children. The Lord names love as the reason that He brought Israel out of Egypt “with a mighty hand” and redeemed them (Deuteronomy 7:7-9). What a wonderful thing to be free from the bondage of sin and loved by an all-powerful God.
- Take a few minutes to review the Scripture from Deuteronomy 18:9-22, John 7:40-43, and Acts 3:17-26. What verses or ideas stand out to you from these passages? What questions do you have? What would you like to remember and apply to your life?
- All cultures contain both beauty and brokenness. What are some of the beautiful realities of the culture we live in? What are some “detestable customs” in our culture that cause brokenness? Where are you tempted to follow the ways of the culture in ways that are not honoring to God?
- Read Deuteronomy 18:22. What is the Biblical standard for a person to be known as a “prophet”? Have you been in situations where you or someone else made the “God told me” claim? How can we know for certain when it is God who is speaking to us?
- Read Acts 3:19. Describe the point in your life when you chose to repent, and turn to Jesus. How has following Jesus changed the way you think, the way you make decisions, and the way you live? What are some specific ways that your life, like the life of Moses, can point others toward Jesus?