20 August 2017
The book of Deuteronomy acts as the conclusion to the Pentateuch, the set of five books which contains the early history of Israel and Israel’s journey to the Promised Land as led by Moses. Its thirty-four chapters contain three sermons and two songs by Moses, which were given to the Israelites before Moses’ death and before their entry into the Promised Land, forty years and one generation after they were freed from slavery in Egypt. Moses uses the history of Israel since Abraham and their past experiences with God as presented in the other books of the Pentateuch to implore them to continue following God and his laws after he’s gone and after they enter the Promised Land.
Structure of Deuteronomy
Deuteronomy’s text is divided into four main sections: Three sermons by Moses, and an account of Moses’ last days, with narrative interspersed throughout.
The first sermon, from Deut. 1:6-4:43, consists of a summary of Israel’s journey from Sinai to Moreb. Part of the second sermon, Deut. 12-28, is the “Deuteronomic Code”, one of four collections of legislation in the Pentateuch (Trawick, 1983, 78). The third sermon wraps up Moses leadership of the Israelites as he pleads with them to stick with the Lord and “Choose life, that you and your offspring may live” (Deut 30:19).
Deuteronomy is the last book in the Pentateuch, and is the last time Moses is with the Israelites. After forty years of leading them in the wilderness, Moses, the man who was friends with God (Exodus 33:11), will no longer be able to lead the Israelites in their journey to the Promised Land and their journey towards God. The purpose of Deuteronomy is not just to introduce new laws, but also to reintroduce the existing laws in a way that will impress into the Israelites hearts. “When it recounts stories from the past, it is not for their antiquarian interest but to convince its contemporary listeners how to avoid such mistakes in the future.” (Wenham, 2003, 124).
Deuteronomy and the Pentateuch
Deuteronomy and Genesis
Genesis is a book of history. From the creation of the universe to the descendants of Joseph in Egypt, it is written after the events happened. Deuteronomy, on the other hand, is Moses talking to the Israelites in the present. The time span of the events in Genesis is thousands of years, where Deuteronomy focuses on Moses’ sermons towards the end of the Israelites journey.
Where Genesis shows God as the Creator and the maker of promises (the tree, Noah, Abraham), Deuteronomy shows God as the keeper of promises, both positive and negative. Where God promised that Abraham’s descendants would outnumber the stars, He also promised that Adam and Eve would die if they ate the fruit of the Tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 15:5, 2:17).
Israel is reminded of God’s covenant with Abraham in Deuteronomy 6:10-13. Moses warns the Israelites not to forget the covenant and not to test God. God loves Israel, and the only proper response is to love God back (Wenham, 2003, 131).
Deuteronomy and Exodus
Exodus is a split between narrative and law. It contains both Moses’ account of Israel’s journey out of Egypt and to the Promised Land and the birth of Israel as a theocratic nation through God giving them the law and instructions on how to build the tabernacle (Wenham, 2003, 58). Exodus contains the first hints that Israel is going to be something special; the Ten Commandments. These first ten laws are so fundamental to God’s devotion to Israel and the covenants that they have made with Him it is no surprise that Moses states them again later in his second sermon in Deuteronomy 5:1-33.
Michael Palmer notes that several sections of Exodus and Deuteronomy can be paralleled (Palmer, n.d., 13-14). Exodus 1-18 and Deuteronomy 1:1-4:43 parallel the trips from Egypt to Sinai and Sinai to Moab, Exodus 19:1-20:21 and Deuteronomy 4:44-5:22 parallel the giving of the Covenant and the Decalogue, and Exodus 20:22-23:33 and Deuteronomy 12-26 parallel the covenant code and deuteronomic code.
In Exodus, God frees his people from slavery in Egypt. He shows Himself as all-powerful to any other god of Egypt and willing to do anything for his people. He makes another covenant at Mount Sinai, this time with Israel as a whole (Ex. 24). In Deuteronomy, on Mount Ebal, God makes yet another covenant with Israel near the site that God made his covenant with Abraham (Wenham, 2003, 139). God is consistently willing to renew and enforce his relationship with his people.
Deuteronomy and Leviticus
Leviticus is the law. Since the creation of the world, God’s people have stood out. Noah found favour with God. Abraham circumcised his descendants. Joseph was in prison right before becoming the Pharaoh's second-hand man. Leviticus meticulously spells out how God wants his new and very young nation to stand out from everybody else. God “spares no expense” in this.
God’s holiness is constantly declared throughout the Bible. In Leviticus 19, The Lord says “you shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy” (Lev. 19:2). He says the same thing in Leviticus 20:7 and 21:6. Moses reminds the Israelites of this in Deuteronomy 14:2: “For you are a people holy to the Lord your God, and the Lord has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth”. God is holy, and so the Israelites should be holy too. This is not a light request. We are made in God’s image, and Israel was God’s treasured possession (Walvoord, 1985, 287).
Deuteronomy and Numbers
Numbers, like Exodus, is a mix of narrative and law. The narrative of Numbers stretches across almost the entire forty years of Israel’s wandering while waiting to be led into the Promised Land. God is in no hurry. These forty years gives Israel time to develop from a group of former Egyptian slaves into a nation able to defend itself against established nations and to cleanse the Promised Land of the Canaanites when the time comes.
The Israelite’s forty year wait to enter the Promised Land is a direct result of their lack of faith (Num. 14:34). However, all is not lost. They are reminded from time to time that they are not abandoned (Wenham, 2003, 111). God continues to give them laws, and in Numbers 31 leads them to successfully defeat the Midianites in war. The last chapters in Numbers are rules for dividing up the Promised Land. In Deuteronomy, Moses and the elders instruct the people of Israel to build an altar in the Promised Land, and curse anybody who does not keep the Lord’s commandments. At long last, the Israelites are ready.
Although its name translates to “second law”, the law that is given in Deuteronomy is different from the law earlier in the Pentateuch because it comes not from God to Moses, but from Moses to the people (Wenham, 2003, 123). Moses fiercely encourages the Israelites to love God and to follow his laws. The whole of Deuteronomy 6 is dedicated to reminding the Israelites who God is and why they must love and obey Him. Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers tells the Israelites what the law is, and Deuteronomy tells them why they should follow it.
Genesis shows God to be a Creator who is devoted to his people and has a plan for them. In Exodus, He is a liberator and delivers his people out of the hands of their enslavers to make them into a great nation under the leadership of Moses. In Leviticus, God shows his attention to detail through strict rules on the proper way to worship Him and the importance of cleanliness and uncleanliness. Numbers demonstrates his patience with us and the wisdom in not allowing the Israelites into the Promised Land immediately.
After forty years of following Moses, the Israelites are about to enter the place God has promised them since Abraham, but Moses will not be there. Deuteronomy is Moses taking the history, law, and Israel’s experiences with God from the rest of the Pentateuch and wrapping it all into three final sermons in the hopes that Israel will take what he has to say to heart and not stray from God.
Trawick, B. B. (1983). The Bible as literature: the Old Testament and the Apocrypha. New York: Barnes & Noble.
Wenham, G. J. (2003) Exploring the Old Testament: A Guide to the Pentateuch. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press
Palmer, M. W. (n.d.). The Exodus and Law Codes in the Torah. Retrieved August 19, 2017, from http://greek-language.com/bible/palmer/07exodusandlawcodes.PDF
Walvoord, J. F. (1985). The Bible knowledge commentary: an exposition of the scriptures: Old Testament. Wheaton, IL: SP Publications.