Book Summaries

The 5th of the 5 books of the Pentateuch. In Hebrew Bibles it bears the title Elleh haddebarém, "these [are] the words," the opening words of the book. The name in our English Bibles, Deuteronomy, comes through the Latin Vulgate, from the title of the book in the Septuagint, Deuteronomion, "second law," a title thought to be drawn from ch 17:18, where the expression occurs. Ancient Jewish tradition unanimously attributes the book to Moses. Our Lord and the various NT writers quote from it or allude to it approximately 100 times, often prefixing the citation with such expressions as "Moses wrote unto us" (Mk 12:19). Modern critical scholars deny its Mosaic authorship and attribute the book in its present form to various writers and editors over a period of centuries. For a discussion of these critical theories and a detailed refutation of them see SDA Com 5:149 ­175.

As stated in Deuteronomy 1:1 ­5, the 40 years of *wilderness wandering were now in the past, and Israel had encamped to the east of the Jordon River opposite Jericho, in the land of Moab (cf. Num 25:1). The conquest of the region to the east of Jordan had already been completed (Deuteronomy 1:4), and now for about 2 months (Deuteronomy 1:3; cf. Jos 4:19) preparations were being made for the invasion of Canaan proper, to the west of the river. During this time Balaam essayed to curse Israel, on behalf of Balak, king of Moab (Num 22 to 24): 24,000 of the people died as a result of apostasy (ch 25); Joshua was ordained to succeed Moses (Num 27:18 ­23; Deuteronomy 1:38), and Moses died (Deuteronomy 34). Most important of all, Moses delivered 3 memorable addresses summarising the experiences and lessons of the Exodus, reviewing the laws already revealed and enacted, and writing out these addresses and laws (ch 31:24 ­26). The generation that had come out of Egypt had died in the wilderness, and a new generation had risen. Before they should enter upon their promised inheritance in the land of Canaan, and upon the arduous conquest of the land, they needed a clear concept of God's purpose in giving them the land and in driving out its former inhabitants. They needed, also, a clear concept of what God expected of them once they had come into possession of the land, and of the laws that were to regulate their conduct. Finally, the people renewed the covenant made at Sinai with their fathers (Deuteronomy 5:1 ­3; 29:1). Whereas in Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers, God delivers the various laws to Moses at various times, here Moses stands in the role of lawgiver, at God's command (chs 1:1 ­4; 5:1; 29:1).

The purpose of the book of Deuteronomy is to inspire an intelligent loyalty to God, through a review of His providential guidance in times past and through an exposition of His holy precepts. The lofty spiritual tone of the book is evident from the fact that when Jesus was called upon to summarise the divine requirements, He cited as "the first and great commandment" a passage from Deuteronomy (ch 6:5). The principle set forth in this commandments is repeated again and again in the book (chs 10:12; 30:6). The code of laws recorded in Deuteronomy applies the principles of the Decalogue--love toward God and toward one's fellow men--to the circumstances under which Israel was to live in the land of Canaan. The theme of the book is Israel's unique relationship, as a unique people, to a unique God. In carrying out this theme Moses lays great stress on monotheism, that is, on the fact that there is only one true God (chs 4:35, 39; 6:4; 10:17; 32:39), on God's supreme rulership in heaven and on earth (chs 7:19; 10:14), on His graciousness and faithfulness (chs 7:6 ­9; 28:58; 32:6), and on His exacting claim to exclusive worship and service (chs 7:4; 29:24 ­26; 31:16, 17). The great watchword of the Jewish people down through the centuries and millenniums--"Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord"--is taken from ch 6:4. Furthermore, God had chosen Israel "to be a special people unto himself, above all people that are upon the face of the earth" (ch 7:6), and graciously invited them to enter into covenant relationship with Him (vs. 6 ­13). Through the covenant they were to become heirs to all the promises formerly made to their forefathers (chs 4:31; 7:12; 8:18; 29:13) and to be established as God's special representatives to the nations of earth (Deuteronomy 4:6 ­9; 28:1 ­14). Unprecedented blessings were to be bestowed upon them as a result of compliance and for the purpose of demonstrating the superiority of the worship and service of the true God above all false gods (ch 28:1 ­14), and corresponding curses for a failure to comply with the requirements of the covenant to which they had voluntarily agreed (chs 27:14 ­26; 28:15 ­68). Ever since it was first written, the book of Deuteronomy has been considered by the Jewish people the supreme revelation of the divine will for them as a nation, and was accorded a place of special honour by the sacred ark of the covenant (ch 31:25, 26).

Following a brief historical preface (Deuteronomy 1:1 ­5), Moses delivers the 1st of the 3 addresses, which is recorded in chs 1:6 to 4:49. This address consists primarily of a review of events that had taken place since Israel's departure from Mount Horeb 38 years before, and of instructions of a general nature anticipating the entrance into Canaan. Moses recounts the command to leave Horeb and to set out for the Promised Land (ch 1:6 ­8), the administrative arrangements for the journey (vs. 9 ­18), and the debacle at Kadesh-barnea that resulted in 38 years of wandering in the wilderness (vs. 19 ­46). Moses next recounts, briefly, events that took place during this period of wandering, through territory that was not to become their possession, until the people arrived at the river Arnon (ch 2:1 ­23). Then, at greater length, he relates the conquest of the regions to the east of the Jordan belonging to Sihon, king of the Amorites, and Og, king of Bashan (chs 2:24 to 3:11). This land was distributed among the Reubenites, the Gadites, and the half tribe of Manasseh (ch 3:12 ­17), and provision was made that the tribes thus settled would assist their brethren in the conquest of the land to the west of the Jordan (vs. 18 ­20). Moses tells also of his request to participate in the conquest of Cannan proper and of God's denial of the request (vs. 21 ­29). Approximately, therefore, he exhorts the people to be faithful to God inasmuch as they are soon to go forward without him (ch 4:1 ­40). There follows a brief interlude reporting the appointment of 3 cities of refuge in the land already subdued, and a statement of the full possession of the territory to the east of the Jordan (vs. 41 ­49).

The 2nd address, delivered on another occasion a little later than the 1st, occupies Deuteronomy 5:1 to 26:19, the major portion of the book. First, Moses relates the awesome circumstances under which God delivered the Decalogue from the heights of Sinai (ch 5:1 ­5), repeats the Decalogue itself with slight variations in wording from the version recorded in Ex 20:3 ­17 (Deuteronomy 5:6 ­21), and stresses the importance of strict obedience based on love for God (vs. 22 ­33). There follows an earnest admonition to observe all the precepts Moses is about to deliver, precepts that had been revealed to Moses and that applied the principles of the Decalogue to the circumstances under which the people were to live in the land of Canaan (ch 6:1 ­25). Moses then explains Israel's unique relation to God as His chosen people, as epitomised in the covenant relationship, and upon this basis strictly forbids any and all association with the heathen peoples of Canaan that would tend to lure Israel away from their unique privilege as the chosen people and their solemn responsibility to represent the true God (ch 7:1 ­15). Certain details regarding the conquest and settlement are outlined, and success is assured, subject to loyalty on Israel's part (vs. 16 ­26). Chapter 8 constitutes an exhortation to keep God foremost in the affections and in the daily life (ch 8:1 ­20). By a narration of repeated occasions of apostasy and backsliding since the departure from Egypt, Moses admonishes the people to humility and loyalty (chs 9:1 to 10:11). Special emphasis is given to the apostasy at Mount Sinai occasioned by the golden calf, as an example of what Israel must, at all costs, avoid in the future. This is followed by another earnest appeal to love God and to obey Him from the heart (chs 10:12 to 11:32). In the next section of the address Moses reviews and comments on the religious precepts and provisions earlier revealed at Mount Sinai (chs 12:1 to 16:17). Israel is to destroy every vestige of heathen worship and to establish a special centre for the worship of the true God, and false prophets are to be stoned to death (chs 12; 13). The people are to avoid heathen customs (ch 14:1 ­21), and to be faithful in supporting the worship of God by their tithes and offerings (vs. 22 ­29). Provision is made for the sabbatic year and for the major religious festivals (chs 15:1 to 16:17). The final and lengthiest section is a compendium of civil and social legislation (chs 16:18 to 26:19). Judges are to be appointed (Deuteronomy 16:18 to 17:13), and a monarchy, when eventually established, is to be conducted on the basis of the laws now promulgated and on the principles of the covenant (ch 17:14 ­20). Leadership is to be vested in the Levites and in divinely commissioned prophets (ch 18). Provision is made for the prevention of a miscarriage of justice (ch 19:1 ­13). Sundry civil and social laws are codified (chs 19:14 to 25:19). As a sort of postscript, Moses again returns to the covenant between God and His people, and to their loyalty to Him (ch 26).

The 3rd address focuses attention on the preservation of the covenant relationship and its inviolability (Deuteronomy 27:1 to 30:20). Provision is made for the reading of the law and for the erection of a permanent monument on which its provisions are to be inscribed (ch 27:1 ­13). At a solemn ceremony the people are to renew their vows of obedience to the covenant and its provisions (vs. 14 ­26). The blessings that are to follow obedience (ch 28:1 ­14) and the curses that are to accompany disobedience (vs. 15 ­68) are outlined in detail. Moses further exhorts to obedience and closes with a tribute to divine graciousness and an appeal to remain loyal to God (chs 29; 30).

In the closing section of the book (Deuteronomy 31 to 34) Moses makes arrangements for the preservation of the law and solemnly charges the leaders with the responsibility of teaching its precepts to the people (ch 31); he makes arrangements for Joshua to succeed him (v 23). He praises God for His gracious mercy and guidance (ch 32:1 ­43), makes arrangements for his own death (vs. 44 ­52), and pronounces his final blessing upon the tribes of Israel (ch 33). He ascends Mount Nebo, views the Promised Land, dies, and is succeeded by Joshua (ch 34).

Horn, Siegfried H., Seventh-day Adventist Bible Dictionary, (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association) 1979.

Sign Up for our Newsletter