The book of Deuteronomy is the final book in the Pentateuch, and it contains gems of truth and spiritual lessons that can be applied to our personal lives.
The word Deuteronomy is derived from the Greek Septuagint version of the Bible, and it basically means “Second Law.” Its Hebrew title is Elleh Haddebharim, meaning, “These Are the Words,” taken from the first verse.
The term “Second Law” may be misleading, as it could imply that there was a second set of laws added to those given at Sinai. This was not the case. The book is a restatement of previous laws, along with further instructions to the generation about to leave the wilderness and enter their new home in the Promised Land. A more suitable meaning may be “Repetition of the Law,” as it reaffirms and restates the Sinai covenant.
Authors William Sanford LaSor, David Allan Hubbard and Frederic William Bush in their volume Old Testament Survey make the following comments on pages 118 and 127: “Deuteronomy is a treasure chest of theological concepts that have influenced the religious thought and life of ancient Israelites, Jews, and Christians. No wonder Bible students have yearned to understand the theological ideas of Deuteronomy. Its antiquity, its centrality in Old Testament thought, and its influence in the New Testament church all testify to an importance that cannot be exaggerated. …
“Every indication points to the conclusion that Deuteronomy is one of the most significant books of the Old Testament. In any generation it deserves careful study.”
Halley’s Bible Handbook refers to Deuteronomy as “some of the world’s finest eloquence” (p. 150).
Because of their disobedience and disbelief that God would lead them safely into the Promised Land, the Israelites ended up wandering for 40 years in the wilderness. Only after the old generation had died were the Israelites allowed to continue their journey.
Moses, aware that he was excluded from entering the land himself, grasped the opportunity to give three lengthy speeches to the people of Israel. Most of the book comprises these instructions and admonitions. With this in mind, we recognize the aptness of the Hebrew name for the book, “These Are the Words” or merely “Words.”
Deuteronomy begins with Moses’ discourse on the plains of Moab in the 11th month of the 40th year after the Exodus, and it ends with the death of Moses and mourning for him that same year. The book covers the final two months of the wanderings of Israel.
Remember and obey
The audience Moses addressed had grown to adulthood in the wilderness. Many had known God and His laws from birth, childhood and through their teenage years. They were accustomed to witnessing miracles such as manna and clothes that did not wear out.
Since they were already well-acquainted with God’s laws, the major emphasis throughout the book is to remember and to obey. Israel was told to remember their history, as it is important for all nations to learn the lessons from their past. They were instructed to remember God’s personal intervention in leading them out of Egypt and through the Red Sea, the miracles in the wilderness, and the lessons of their fathers who died there.
Frequently they were told to “diligently hearken” to God’s commandments and “to do” them. “Therefore be careful to observe them; for this is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples who will hear all these statutes, and say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people’” (4:6).
And in Deuteronomy 10:12 we read this important instruction: “And now, Israel, what does the LORD your God require of you, but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all His ways and to love Him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and all your soul.”
In Deuteronomy the law was seen as a blessing and a gift from God. Notice especially chapter 4:6-9.
Deuteronomy emphasizes the heart and feeling of the law—to love God with all your being and your neighbor as yourself. Even though that generation knew the letter of the law, God instructed them to circumcise their hearts and write His laws there (30:6). God is vitally concerned for Israel and for all peoples and their well-being. He wants them to obey Him from the heart so that He can pour out His abundant blessings upon them.
If the people respond with faithfulness, His loyalty is steadfast and sure: “Then it shall come to pass, because you listen to these judgments, and keep and do them, that the LORD your God will keep with you the covenant and the mercy which He swore to your fathers” (7:12, emphasis added throughout).
Deuteronomy and the New Testament
There are numerous quotes from this book in the New Testament. There are approximately 28 quotations that show the honor in which this book was held by Christ and the various authors of the New Testament.
Christ quoted the book three times as His scriptural authority to refute Satan (Matthew 4:1-11; Deuteronomy 6:13, 16; 8:3). When a Pharisee asked Christ what the great commandment in the law was, He quoted from Deuteronomy 6:5: “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength.”
That’s good advice for us today as well!
Brief overview of Deuteronomy
The book begins with a history of the Israelites’ journeys and their preparation to cross the Jordan River into Canaan. The defeat of the kings east of Jordan is a sign of what God would do for Israel in Canaan. Admonition is given to Joshua to have faith in God and not to fear the enemies (3:21-22).
The new generation is commanded to keep God’s laws and statutes so that they could live a full, abundant life.
God renews His covenant with the new generation (5:3), and the 10 Commandments are restated (5:6-21). Obedience is closely linked with man’s heart (5:29). Prosperity tends to create distance between God and man. People tend to forget God when all goes well. Children are also to be taught God’s laws (6:7, 10-15).
God shows His loyalty to His chosen people (7:6-26), but they are not special due to their own strength or goodness (see also the same principle in 1 Corinthians 1:26 in reference to the Church of God at Corinth). Diseases are withheld (7:15), and God removes their fear of the enemy (verse 18).
An admonition not to forget God’s mercy and blessings is given. Forgetfulness and ingratitude are among man’s greatest sins. Showing gratitude to God should be part of our daily walk with Him.
Moses reviews the stubbornness of Israel. Unless Moses had acted as an intercessor, the people would have been destroyed. We are admonished in James 1:21 that we are to receive the Word of God “with meekness” and in humility.
Verses 26-28: Humans have free moral agency, whether they decide to choose the way of obedience that leads to blessings or the way of disobedience that leads to curses.
Because God regards them as “a holy people to the LORD,” He lists which foods are clean (suitable to eat) and which are unclean (14:2-21). Tithing principles are outlined so that “you may learn to fear the LORD your God always” (14:22-29). Tithing is one way that we honor God and express our gratitude and thankfulness for His blessings.
Certain of God’s festivals and holy days are enumerated. More details of the “feasts of the LORD” are given in Leviticus 23. Christ and His disciples also observed these holy days in the New Testament.
Moses commands the leaders of Israel to write out the words of the law and engrave them on whole stones upon entering the land of Canaan. It was to be a reminder to Israel of who led them into the Promised Land. “Therefore you shall obey the voice of the LORD your God, and observe His commandments and His statutes which I command you today” (27:10).
Sadly, after the death of Joshua, the people soon departed from their God and chose rather to follow the gods of the nations around them. God demands absolute obedience to Him and Him only, and He will not tolerate unfaithfulness, especially from those who claim to be His followers.
God shows Moses the land of Canaan (32:48-52), but because he did not hallow God in the sight of the people at Kadesh (Numbers 20:11-13), he was not allowed to enter the land. There is no indication that Moses became upset with God over this decision. The death of Moses is recorded in chapter 34. This section was most likely added later, perhaps by Ezra prior to the Old Testament canonization.
Relevant, not obsolete
It is a pity that so many misguided people believe that the Old Testament is obsolete and has no relevance for Christians today. Those who insist that the Old Testament, including the book of Deuteronomy, is outdated and irrelevant refuse to accept the clear evidence that Christ and the apostles included Old Testament passages in their writings and instructions.
Christ made this point clear when He stated: “Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill” (Matthew 5:17). Deuteronomy is part of the Law that Christ made reference to.
One of the major ways we seek and serve God is through a careful study of both the Old and New Testaments. You will discover that the Scriptures contain answers to the problems you face in your personal life.
The Bible is truly the Word of God and, as the apostle Paul stated, “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16). It is up to each of us to prove these statements by taking God at His word and studying the Bible on a regular basis.
For further study, read the articles in the section: “The Practical and Priceless Benefits of Bible Study.”
For a quick link to all the other books of the Bible, see “Books of the Bible” on the Learning Center.