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Deuteronomy Synopsis


Deuteronomy is the last of the five books of Moses. It is, in effect, Moses’ Valedictory address in the form of several speeches and two long poems, which basically describe the exodus from Egypt and change of leadership (to Joshua) wrapped around the  code of  laws from God (Deuteronomy 10:12-26:19). Several themes are repeated as many as five and six times, which means to us, pay attention!

Deuteronomy, which means “the repetition of the law”, consists chiefly of three discourses delivered by Moses shortly before his death. Subjoined to these discourses are the Song of Moses, the Blessing of Moses, and the story of his death.

The Book of Deuteronomy is a sermon calling Israel to live faithfully to the covenant and the laws of Yahweh. It is rooted in the Exodus traditions. It constantly reminds Israel of its history and doesn’t hesitate to review it:

You will answer and say before Yahweh your God, “a Syrian ready to perish was my father; and he went down into Egypt, and lived there, few in number; and he became there a nation, great, mighty, and populous. The Egyptians dealt ill with us, and afflicted us, and laid on us hard bondage: and we cried to Yahweh, the God of our fathers, and Yahweh heard our voice, and saw our affliction, and our toil, and our oppression; and Yahweh brought us forth out of Egypt with a mighty hand, and with an outstretched arm, and with great terror, and with signs, and with wonders; and he has brought us into this place, and has given us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey. (Deuteronomy 26:5-9)

This history is presented as the foundation for national life. It is the reason for the moral imperative to live faithfully through practicing social justice for the poor (Deuteronomy 15 and 24:14-22) and faithful religious observance (Deuteronomy 12). It is, therefore, political theology because national life was to be shaped according to God’s laws (Deuteronomy 5). Obedience is not only a religious imperative but also a political imperative. This idea runs throughout the Book of Deuteronomy.

The main theme of Deuteronomy is obedience as taught by Moses. He reminded Israel to learn from the example of their parents and carries a theme of Law throughout. Deuteronomy 28, which continues to be a theme to the end of the book, lays out the pattern by which God will work in Israel as they dwell in the land they are about to enter. The Abrahamic covenant is thus renewed in the covenant of Moses. It especially gives us the outline for the Babylon Captivity, after which the nation was restored to the land and to faith. Deuteronomy Chapter 28 is especially important for correctly understanding eschatology as it contains both the blessings for obedience and the curses for disobedience.

But in the new covenant these things took on greater spiritual import and the judgment, Jesus prophesied, came AFTER the people were first brought into that covenant. The people were delivered before the judgment in A.D. 70 came through Titus and the Roman Legions. Who was to be restored after that when the remnant was already saved? Those who were not slain in the judgment went into captivity, and Israel was dispersed into the nations – in UNBELIEF. They were not the witnesses for Messiah anymore, as they had been before He arrived. No, that privilege passed to those who BELIEVED.

Deuteronomy 28 specifically speaks of a restoration that comes after judgment, but only when they turn to the Lord. There is no restoration of the promise given to Abraham which can come apart from that. The people must repent. But Jesus is the last faithful Son of Israel who came before the judgment and the inheritance was given to Him. Those who were cut off therefore will remain cut off from the promise until they come to faith in Him. There is no turning to the Lord for Israel, or any other people, without turning to Jesus and putting one’s faith in Him.

Therefore 1948/1967 has nothing to do with a promise remaining of being restored to the land yet not to faith. Salvation and prophecy are thus fulfilled together in Christ – you can’t have one without the other! (Hebrews 1:1)

The English title comes from the Septuagint (Greek) translation. “Deuteronomy” means “second law” in Greek. We might suppose that this title arose from the idea that Deuteronomy records the law as Moses repeated it to the new generation of Israelites who were preparing to enter the land, but this is not the case. It came from a mistranslation of a phrase in 17:18. There God commanded Israel’s kings to prepare “a copy of this law” for themselves. The Septuagint translators mistakenly rendered this phrase “this second [repeated] law.” The Vulgate (Latin) translation, influenced by the Septuagint, translated the phrase “second law” as deuteronomium from which Deuteronomy is a transliteration. Deuteronomy is to some extent; however, a repetition to the new generation of the Law God gave at Mt. Sinai. Thus God overruled the translators’ error and gave us a title for the book in English that is appropriate in view of the contents of the book. The meaning of this word is “second law”. It repeats the laws covered in the second through forth books of the Bible.

The unity of the Pentateuch is generally admitted. Some modern critics, however, have maintained that Deuteronomy is of  later origin than the four books preceding it. This they do despite the fact that Deuteronomy distinctly declares its authorship (31:19) andthe New Testament expressly states that the book is the work of Moses; (Matthew 19:7-8, Mark 10:3, Luke 24:27, Acts 3:22 and 7:37). The fact that its last chapter contains the account of Moses’ death in no sense discredits the Mosaic authorship. This account, of course, was added by another hand and, with verses of eulogy that follow, it becomes the closing section of Deuteronomy (34:5-12).

Deuteronomy has a strong intellectual orientation. It urges all Israelites to study God’s laws. Its style is didactic and sermonic, explaining the meaning of events and the purpose of laws, to secure Israel’s willing, understanding assent.

The time covered by Deuteronomy, the last few weeks of the period of the Wandering, is very brief. The scene is laid in the Plains of Moab, where the Israelites were in their last encampment before going into the Promised Land. Moses, their great leader and Lawgiver, makes use of these final days to deliver his final addresses to the Children of Israel.

-Allyn Morton