The fifth and final book of the Torah or Pentateuch is Deuteronomy. The name means “second law” or “copy of the law” and comes from the Greek δευτερονόμιον, which appears in Deuteronomy 17:18 of the LXX. That said, this text doesn’t appear to be the source of naming the book. The book is a retelling of the Law for the new generation who would enter the promised land. In Hebrew the book is called eleh ha-devarim, “These are the words” (1:1).
Most of the book is a record of three speeches delivered by Moses; all three focusing on obedience.
- The first sermon (1:5-4:40) urges obedience based on the past goodness of God to Israel. Moses reminds them of the failure of the past generation to enter the promised land by faith. He recounts their short history and God’s provision throughout. Drawing towards the end of the discourse, the people are warned not to add to or take away from God’s law (4:2), they are told to keep the things they have seen in their hearts and to teach them to their children and grandchildren (4:9), it is emphasized there is only one God (4:39) and if they obey Him their days in the land would be prolonged (4:40).
- The second (5:1-26:19) urges obedience based on the covenant established between God and Israel at Mount Sinai. As such, Moses gives the ten commandments in full at the beginning of this discourse (Deuteronomy 5; cf. Exodus 20). Immediately upon restating the Law, Moses emphasizes the loving God and His Law. They are to be in the heart, bound on the hand and forehead, on the doorpost, talked about, mediated upon, passed on to subsequent generations (Deuteronomy 6). In the next several chapters instruction is given concerning the land they were about to receive, the people who currently resided there, their practices, etc.. They were to destroy the pagans from the land—don’t make covenants with them—don’t engage in their false worship. The Israelites were instructed to treat the poor well; to observe the feasts faithfully; to make their offerings and pay their tithes, which were the inheritance of the Levites. In 18:18, a Messianic promise is made; a prophet like Moses would come and give a law which the people must obey. The remainder of Moses’ second discourse focused on a variety of laws including the treatment of foreigners, neighbours, and property belonging to others; as well as who may or may not be in their assemblies, in their camps and in their cities. The sermon ends with the affirmation that Israel were God’s “special people … set high above all nations” (26:18-19).
- The third (27:1-30:20) urges obedience based on future blessings for obedience (and curses for disobedience). The people were assembled on mounts Gerizim and Ebal from which the blessings and curses were proclaimed. Obey and there would be manifold blessings showered upon them; disobey and the list of curses was extensive.
The final 4 chapters speak of Moses’ last days. In chapter 31 Joshua was appointed Moses’ successor to lead the nation. Chapter 32 is the song of Moses, focused on the goodness of the previous generation, the goodness of God, and the hope of the current generation. In chapter 33 Moses blessed the people, and finally in chapter 34, Moses ascended Mount Nebo where he was able to view the promised land before dying. Deuteronomy 34:7 tells us, “Moses was one hundred and twenty years old when he died. His eyes were not dim nor his natural vigor diminished.” Quite simply, it was time for him to pass so the next generation could enter the land of Canaan under Joshua’s leadership. The people had 30 days of morning for Moses, their deceased leader.
Next week we continue with Joshua…