The Israelites are now in sight of the land God promised their ancestors. Moses’ time on earth is drawing to a close. At this moment of great expectation and promise, Moses addresses his people for the final time. The record of this address is found in Deuteronomy.
Deuteronomy is the fifth book of the Bible and receives its name from the Greek deuteronomion, “second law.” Its Hebrew name is Devarim, “the words,” from Deuteronomy 1:1. The book of Deuteronomy presents the record of Moses’ final address (or series of addresses) to the Israelites, reminding them of what God had done for them, the laws He provided, and the consequences of their behavior, as well as providing the story of the death of Moses. The majority of Deuteronomy (Deuteronomy 1:1-30:20) is a record of Moses’ final speech(es) given around 1410 BCE and written at that time (Deuteronomy 31:9). The record of Moses’ death was likely written soon afterward.
Moses begins by re-telling the events that took place between the departure from Mount Sinai until the present moment (Deuteronomy 1:1-3:29; cf. Numbers 10:11-36:13). Moses then encourages the people to follow God and not to turn aside from His way, to keep the Law (re-stating and explaining the Ten Commandments), to honor God as one, to avoid idolatry, to understand their election by God and trust in Him, and to remember God always as the Source of blessings (Deuteronomy 4:1-8:20). He reminds Israel of how they deserve none of this since they have committed idolatry, recounting all of their transgressions in the Wilderness (Deuteronomy 9:1-10:11). Israel is now to circumcise their hearts, love and serve the LORD, and to offer sacrifice at the place He will appoint (Deuteronomy 10:12-12:28). After warning the people against following after the idolatry and sinfulness of the Caananites (Deuteronomy 12:29-14:21), Moses exhorts them to provide tithes, offerings, and to properly observe the festivals (Deuteronomy 14:22-16:17). Moses reminds Israel to maintain justice, to keep any king they may have in check, to provide for the priests and Levites, to avoid the abominations of the Canaanites, to listen to the prophet like Moses whom God will send to Israel, to maintain cities of refuge, and to insist on multiple witnesses in a trial (Deuteronomy 16:18-19:21). Moses also provides laws regarding warfare, atonement for murder, marrying prisoners of war, matters regarding children and inheritance, and other various laws (Deuteronomy 20:1-22:30).
Moses also provides various laws about who can and cannot be in the camp, divorce, levirate marriage, offerings of firstfruits and tithes, and other miscellaneous laws (Deuteronomy 23:1-26:19). Moses then makes provision for the people to establish altars on Mount Ebal and Gerizim and the curses and blessings to be pronounced from them, along with a description of the blessing for obedience and the curses for disobedience (Deuteronomy 27:1-28:68).
Moses then renews the covenant between God and Israel in Moab, the opportunity to repent and be forgiven, and the choice set before Israel of life or death (Deuteronomy 29:1-30:20). Joshua is then established as Moses’ successor; the Law is written down and entrusted to the Levites, and Moses commissions Joshua to lead Israel (Deuteronomy 31:1-29). Moses then sings a song of warning of the future, is told of his impending death, and pronounces his final blessing on the tribes of Israel (Deuteronomy 31:30-33:29). Deuteronomy ends with the record of Moses’ death and Israel’s lamentation (Deuteronomy 34:1-12).
Deuteronomy provides explanations for many laws and tells us much about the God who gave them. Israel could never claim to have not known what God intended for them or of the severity of the punishment for disobedience!
Through Moses’ pleas to the people of Israel we can gain encouragement. We learn more of the God who sustains us by His words, especially those spoken by the Prophet like Moses whom God made rise in Israel, Jesus of Nazareth. Let us listen to Him and glorify God!