Deuteronomy; Why?

Week 1: Overview

Click here to download a pdf version.  Use the comment section for questions or insights.  Dialogue helps us to deepen our understanding.

Getting Acquainted

Deuteronomy (the title is Greek for “second law” or “second lawgiving”) is a national constitution, a founding document for the new life that Israel is about to begin in the Land of Promise. Forty years previously, God had brought Israel out of bondage in Egypt and made a covenant with them at Sinai. But then, instead of receiving the land God had promised to them, Israel refused to enter it and was compelled to wander in the wilderness for 40 years. Now, at the end of those 40 years, Israel is on the cusp of entering the land once more. The book of Deuteronomy is the great, all-encompassing vision for what life in the land should look like for God’s people.

But Deuteronomy is also a farewell sermon. Moses is now 120 years old and is about to die. For decades he served as a mediator: he was God’s messenger to Israel and represented Israel’s requests to God. He was also Israel’s ruler, guide, and judge, with authority unsurpassed by anyone else in Israel. As his monumental life draws to a close, Deuteronomy is Moses’ last plea to Israel to live by the light of all that God has taught them.

And yet, Deuteronomy is ultimately about what God does for Israel, not what Israel does for God. The call to obedience (chs. 4–26) is rooted in God’s redemptive work in the past (chs. 1–11) as well as the promise of God’s work in the future (chs. 27–28). Even as Deuteronomy reckons with Israel’s profound brokenness and inability to obey (chs. 29, 31–32), it still holds forth an unshakable hope for the future based on God’s faithfulness (chs. 30, 32–33).

(For further background click here).

Placing Deuteronomy in the Larger Story

To begin to read Deuteronomy is to enter an epic story midstream. Deuteronomy is a major milestone in a narrative that began all the way back in Genesis and that continues to the end of Revelation.

Back in Genesis, God made several promises to Abraham: Abraham would have abundant offspring, this offspring would have a covenant relationship with God, and this offspring would enjoy that covenant relationship with God in the land of Canaan (Gen. 17:6–8). These promises encompass all that the garden of Eden held out to Adam before his fall into sin: a holy God dwelling among a holy people in a holy place. What Adam forfeited, God promises he will still provide one day.

By the time we reach Deuteronomy, Abraham’s offspring have become a large nation (Ex. 1:7; Deut. 1:10), and God has established his covenant with them at Sinai (Ex. 24:1–8). What remains is for them to enter the Promised Land, which they are about to do (see the book of Joshua). Deuteronomy calls Israel to the obedience that leads to genuine life with the Lord, in contrast to Adam’s choice of death.

But Israel ultimately chooses death, just as Adam did, and they must be removed from the land (Judges–Kings). Thus Deuteronomy points forward to the true Adam and the true Israel, Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ obeyed God on our behalf and won for us the ultimate fulfillment of the promises to Abraham: eternal life. He thus brings about the holy kingdom foreshadowed in Deuteronomy.

Key Verse

“I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live, loving the Lord your God, obeying his voice and holding fast to him, for he is your life and length of days, that you may dwell in the land that the Lord swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give them.” (Deut. 30:19–20)

Date and Historical Background

Deuteronomy records its own writing, stating in 31:9 that “Moses wrote this law and gave it to the priests, the sons of Levi, who carried the ark of the covenant of the Lord, and to all the elders of Israel” (see also 31:22, 24). In context, “this law” probably refers to most of the book, which Moses wrote shortly before his death in either 1406 or 1220 BC (see the ESV Study Bible, pages 33, 385 for further discussion). However, even though Moses was responsible for most of Deuteronomy, there are a few parts of the book that date from a later time. These include the framing words in 1:1–5 (with its reference to events “beyond the Jordan”), the account of Moses’ death in chapter 34, and small editorial comments (e.g., 2:10–12). But as much as God may have seen fit to enhance Deuteronomy for later audiences, the core of the book was available in written form throughout Israel’s history, both for their instruction (17:18; 31:10–13; 33:10) and as a witness against them when they disobeyed (31:19, 26).


I.               Prologue: Israel’s Recent History (1:1–3:29)
a.      Setting of the book (1:1–5)
b.     Israel’s failure at Kadesh-barnea (1:6–46)
c.      The journey to the plains of Moab (2:1–3:29)
II.             The Heart of Covenant Life with the Lord (4:1–11:32)
a.      The uniqueness of the Lord and his law (4:1–43)
b.     The Ten Commandments and Moses as mediator (4:44–5:33)
c.      Israel to obey the Lord alone (6:1–8:20)
                                        i.     With all that they are (6:1–25)
                                      ii.     Not drawn away by other nations (7:1–26)
                                     iii.     Not boasting in themselves (8:1–20)
d.     Israel to love the Lord (9:1–11:32)
                                        i.     For his grace shown at Sinai (9:1–10:11)
                                      ii.     For his powerful love to Israel (10:12–22)
                                     iii.     For the reward of life in the land (11:1–32)
III.           Specific Commands (12:1–26:19)
a.      Concerning the place of worship (12:1–32)
b.     Concerning false teachers (13:1–18)
c.      Concerning food and times of the year (14:1–16:17)
d.     Concerning leaders, war, and justice (16:18–21:9)
e.      Concerning marriage, money, and the details of life (21:10–25:19)
f.      Concerning the first fruits (26:1–19)
IV.           Blessings and Curses (27:1–29:1)
V.             The Future of Israel (29:2–33:29)
a.      God’s implacable anger (29:2–29)
b.     A future beyond judgment (30:1–10)
c.      Moses’ final plea (30:11–20)
d.     New leaders, but the certainty of Israel’s apostasy (31:1–29)
e.      A song of Israel’s future (31:30–32:52)
f.      Moses blesses Israel (33:1–29)
VI.           Epilogue: The Death of Moses (34:1–12)

As You Get Started

Before you began this study, what did you expect Deuteronomy to be about?

Does it seem strange that a book with so many laws could ultimately be about God’s grace? If so, why?

List some questions you have about Deuteronomy. Perhaps some will have to do with how an ancient book written for Israel could apply to Christians today, which will be a central concern for this study.

As You Finish…

God gave the whole Old Testament to instill a hunger for Christ, the coming Redeemer of God’s people. Ask God to help you approach Deuteronomy with an open heart, expectant that God will feed you here with his grace.


Mark McKleroy said…
The short video is awesome, gives you an great over view
Jason Grissom said…
Deuteronomy functions as a theological manifesto, calling on Israel to respond to God’s grace with unreserved loyalty and love.
Jason Grissom said…
Israel’s history begins and ends with God. Deuteronomy instructs Israel and all subsequent readers on Yahweh’s absolute uniqueness (4:32–39; 6:4; 10:17; 32:39; 33:26), eternality (33:27), transcendence (7:21; 10:17; 32:3), holiness (32:51), justice and righteousness (32:4; cf. 10:18), passion (jealousy) for his covenant and his relationship with his people (4:24; 5:9; 6:15; 9:3; 32:21), faithfulness (7:9), presence (1:41; 4:7; 6:15; 7:21; 31:17), compassion (4:31), and especially his covenant love (4:37; 7:7, 8, 13; 10:15, 18; 23:5).

But in this book none of these is a mere abstraction. Yahweh lives in relationship with human beings, which explains why Moses never tired of speaking of God’s grace. This grace was expressed in many different concrete actions toward Israel: his election of Abraham and his descendants (4:37; 7:6), his rescue of Israel from the bondage of Egypt (4:32–36), his establishment of Israel as his covenant people (4:9–31; 5:1–22; 26:16–19), his providential care (1:30–33; 8:15–16), his provision of a homeland (6:10–15; 8:7–14), his provision of leadership (16:18–18:22), and his provision of victory over their enemies (7:17–24).