Finally: Israel is just across the Jordan River from the promised land of Canaan. Moses has led the young nation out of Egypt and on a 40-year journey through the wilderness, and they have just defeated several enemies before setting up camp here. Three of the 12 tribes are already settling the land east of the Jordan, and the whole nation is almost ready to enter the land God promised to their ancestor Abraham (back in the book of Genesis).
Forty years earlier, God had rescued the Israelites from slavery in Egypt. In the wilderness, the people agreed to form a special agreement (a covenant) with their God: he would give them the land of Canaan and protect them as their God, and in return they would keep his laws. However, the people of Israel violated God’s laws almost as soon as he gave them. That generation forfeited the promised land (which you can read about in Numbers), and now a new generation is about to make the journey into the land instead.
Before they do, Moses rallies the people to remind them of God’s law—and why they should obey Him. This is how the book of Deuteronomy gets its name: it’s the “second giving” of God’s law.
Theme verses of Deuteronomy
I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse.
So choose life in order that you may live, you and your descendants, by loving the LORD your God, by obeying His voice, and by holding fast to Him; for this is your life and the length of your days, that you may live in the land which the LORD swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to give them.
Deuteronomy’s role in the Bible
- His promises to Abraham in Genesis
- His faithfulness in rescuing Israel in Exodus
- His holiness in Leviticus
- His punishment on the disobedient in Numbers
Moses also gives directions, blessings, and warnings, for the children of Israel in the future:
- The appointment of Joshua as the new leader
- God’s expectations of kings—which take effect when Saul becomes king in 1 Samuel
- Prosperity for obeying God—which happens during David’s and Solomon’s reigns (1 Kgs 8:56; 10:14–29)
- Exile for disobedience—which happens when the tribes are conquered by Assyria and Babylon (2 Kgs 17:6–23; 25:1–26)
- God’s promise to restore Israel—which happens when Cyrus allows the Jews to return from Babylon in Ezra.
When asked what the greatest commandment is, Jesus cites Deuteronomy 6:5: “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength” (Mk 12:30). Jesus quotes Deuteronomy three times when the devil tempts Him in the wilderness (Mt 4:1–11).
Deuteronomy focuses on loving God and keeping His commandments (Dt 11:1), which is exactly what Christ expects of us (Jn 14:15).
Quick outline of Deuteronomy
- Recap of Israel’s journey from Egypt (Dt 1–3)
- Recap of Israel’s relationship with God (Dt 4–10)
- How to love God and keep His commandments (Dt 11–26)
- Blessings, curses, and restoration (Dt 27–30)
- The death of Moses (Dt 31–34)