Who wrote the book?
Deuteronomy means “second law,” a term mistakenly derived from the Hebrew word mishneh in Deuteronomy 17:18. In that context, Moses simply commands the king to make a “copy of the law.”1 But Deuteronomy does something more than give a simple copy of the Law. The book offers a restatement of the Law for a new generation, rather than a mere copy of what had gone before. Deuteronomy records this “second law”—namely Moses’s series of sermons in which he restated God’s commands originally given to the Israelites some forty years earlier in Exodus and Leviticus.
“These are the words which Moses spoke to all Israel,” says Deuteronomy 1:1. Mosaic authorship of this book finds the usual support from Jewish tradition (with the entire Pentateuch) but also from within the biblical text. Several times, Deuteronomy asserts Moses as author (1:1; 4:44; 29:1). Speaking to Joshua, Moses’s successor, the Lord referred to this “book of the law” as that which Moses commanded (Joshua 1:8). And when future Old Testament and New Testament writers quoted from Deuteronomy, they often referred to it as originating with Moses (1 Kings 2:3; 2 Kings 14:6; Ezra 3:2; Nehemiah 1:7; Malachi 4:4; Matthew 19:7;
Some obvious editorial changes were made to the text sometime after Moses recorded the bulk of it. For instance, he could not have written the final chapter, which dealt with his death. However, these and other small changes do not affect the generally accepted authorship of Moses.
Where are we?
Deuteronomy was written around 1406 BC, at the end of the forty years of wandering endured by the nation of Israel. At the time, the people were camped on the east side of the Jordan River, on the plains of Moab, across from the city of Jericho (Deuteronomy 1:1; 29:1). They were on the verge of entering the land that had been promised centuries earlier to their forefathers (Genesis 12:1, 6–9). The children who had left Egypt were now adults, ready to conquer and settle the Promised Land. Before that could happen, the Lord reiterated through Moses His covenant with them.
Why is Deuteronomy so important?
Moses addressed his words to “all Israel” at least twelve times. This phrase emphasized the nation’s unity, initiated by their covenant with God at Mount Sinai and forged in the wilderness. In the midst of widespread polytheism, Israel was distinctive in that they worshiped one God, Yahweh. Their God was totally unique; there was none other like Him among all the “gods” of the nations surrounding them. Deuteronomy 6:4 codifies this belief in the Shema, the basic confession of faith in Judaism even today. “Hear, O Israel! The LORD [Yahweh] is our God, the LORD [Yahweh] is one!”
Deuteronomy also restates the Ten Commandments and many other laws given in Exodus and Leviticus. The book delivered to Israel God’s instructions on how to live a blessed life in the Promised Land. Chapters 27 and 28 specify the blessings of obedience and the curses of disobedience.
What's the big idea?
Unlike the unconditional covenant God made with Abraham, the covenant between Yahweh and Israel was bilateral—a two-way street. God would keep His promise to bless the nation if the people remained faithful. The adult Israelites were too young to have participated in the first covenant ceremony at Mount Sinai. Therefore, Moses reviewed the Law at the doorstep to the Promised Land, urging this new generation to re-covenant with Yahweh, to recommit themselves to His ways.
How do I apply this?
In Moses’s conclusion, he entreated the people,
“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.” (Deuteronomy 30:19–20)
“This” in verse 20 refers to loving the Lord your God, obeying, and holding fast to Him. That is life! Our relationship with God is to be marked by faithfulness, loyalty, love, and devotion. Think of an ideal marriage—that’s the picture of how God wants us to cling to Him (Ephesians 5:28–32).
How closely do you cling to God? Pray and recommit your heart to that all-important relationship with Him.
- Merrill F. Unger, Unger's Commentary on the Old Testament (Chattanooga, Tenn.: AMG, 2002), 233.
“Who do people say that I am?” (Mark 8:27) Jesus asked this question two thousand years ago, and the answers are still coming in: a rabbi who preached compassion, a brilliant leader who touched the hearts of thousands, a misunderstood innovator who died as a martyr. His enemies said He was a devil, a rabble-rouser […]Read More
From his deathbed, David told his son, Solomon, to follow the Lord’s statutes closely. And looking simply at the results, the early years of Solomon’s reign seem to bear the principle that David spoke: “Walk in His ways . . . keep His statutes . . . that you may succeed in all that you […]Read More
It’s true. For many people, the holidays draw up painful memories. Sore spots from childhood or the loss of loved ones hit them hard during this sentimental season. While many people celebrate the joys of Christmastime, others suffer its loneliness. During one of the most desperate times of David’s life, the anointed future king of […]Read More
As the Israelites prepared to enter the Promised Land, what went through their minds? What occupied their thoughts? Did they believe they had arrived, that their struggles were now over? Though excited about the future, they surely realised that on the other side of the river, challenges awaited them. They had reason to worry. Enemies, […]Read More
Hate is a powerful word. We are taught from childhood to avoid hatred at all costs and to obey the command of Christ to love everyone, including our enemies. So it’s shocking to read the words that Paul quoted from Malachi, who declared that God loved Jacob but hated Esau (Malachi 1:2–3). How can a […]Read More
The Content and Extent of the Old Testament Canon Now these things happened to them as an example, and they were written for our instruction, upon whom the ends of the ages have come. —The apostle Paul (1 Corinthians 10:11) The use of the Old Testament Scriptures by the church has been the subject of […]Read More
Sometimes I learn things in strange ways. And I annoy the people around me because I get so excited about the things I learn and the weird ways I learn them that I just have to tell all about it. For example, I had a couple of thoughts the other day while watching an episode […]Read More
Have you ever wondered what the disciples thought the day Christ died—were they profoundly bewildered? What were Mary’s feelings just before she told Joseph of her pregnancy, or as she watched her baby boy, now a man, hang on a cross? Has it ever crossed your mind to wonder what Daniel’s thoughts were on the […]Read More
As the Walrus and the Carpenter set out along the shore, they invited with them a little host of curious oysters. This naïve (and tasty) entourage was drawn in by the promise of a wide-ranging and mentally-stimulating conversation about the nature of the universe. The “big conversation” took place over dinner, and the curious little […]Read More
I remember the time I spoke to American football’s Los Angeles Rams at their pregame chapel service, and later that night, they destroyed the Dallas Cowboys. The evening before Super Bowl XIV, I spoke to the Pittsburgh Steelers, and they ripped the Rams apart the next day. Then I spoke to baseball’s L.A. Dodgers before […]Read More