1. Title. The book of Deuteronomy is the fifth and last book of the Pentateuch. It is usually referred to among the Jews by the expression “These words,” the first two words of the book in Hebrew. The English title of the book is from the LXX and means “The Second [or, Repeated] Legislation,” in relation to the book of Exodus, which is sometimes referred to as “The First Legislation.”
2. Authorship. The full weight of traditional testimony is overwhelmingly in favor of Moses as the author of the book of Deuteronomy. As far back as one can trace there is no other name suggested. It is only the modern scholar who has questioned it. Added to this traditional testimony is the authority of Jesus Christ and the apostles (Matt. 19:7, 8, cf. Deut. 24:1; Mark 12:19, cf. Deut. 25:5; John 1:17 and 7:19, cf. Deut. 4:44; John 1:45 and Acts 3:22, cf. Deut. 18:15; Heb. 10:28, cf. Deut. 17:2–7). The age of the book is attested by the type of Hebrew expressions used and by the historical facts and settings portrayed. These and other facts testify to Moses as the author (see PP 503).
3. Historical Setting. By the first day of the 11th month of the 40th year of the Exodus, Israel had encamped at Shittim, opposite Jericho, in the plains of Moab east of the Jordan (Num. 25:1; Deut. 1:1–3). During the two months they remained there (Deut. 1:3; cf. Joshua 3:1, 2, 5, 7; 4:19), preparations were made to occupy Canaan, and, perhaps most important of all, Moses spoke the discourses that constitute the bulk of the book of Deuteronomy.
4. Theme. The book is historical, legislative, and hortatory. It consists chiefly of four orations (or three, according to some authorities), with connective notes. The first oration announces Moses’ deposition from the office of leadership. It begins with historic survey and closes with exhortation to keep the law. The second oration reviews the Decalogue as the basis for the covenant between God and Israel and admonishes Israel to obey; the body of the discourse consists of a recital of the requirements of civil, social, and religious legislation. The third oration is concerned with the ritual of the blessing and the curse. Here Moses rises to heights of oratorical denunciation unsurpassed in literature.The fourth oration again presents, with brief historic survey, an exhortation to keep the law, and explains the covenant in the heart.
In the oratory of Deuteronomy, Moses appeals to his people to order their lives according to the revealed will of God. Obedience means life; disobedience means death. Moses employs historic facts as the groundwork of his exhortation, and reinforces his message by appealing to Israel’s love and gratitude to God and their dignity as God’s chosen people. Aware of the dangers of idolatry and of the substitution of form for the essential spirit of religion, Moses stresses the supremacy of Jehovah and His law, the spiritual nature of His worship and service, and His faithfulness in keeping covenant with Israel and with all nations.
A unique cycle of great oratory, Deuteronomy is the valedictory of a man who loved his people so deeply that he begged to be blotted out of the book of life if their sin could not be forgiven (Ex. 32:32).
The influence of Deuteronomy, and its place in the religious life of the Hebrews—and of Christendom—is great. The re-discovery of the “book of the law” at the time of King Josiah produced one of the greatest religious reformations in history (see 2 Kings 22, 23; 2 Chron. 34, 35; PK 392-406). Deuteronomy became the keystone of Hebrew religious devotion; every true Hebrew recited one of its chapters daily. Jesus met the temptations of the evil one with three quotations from Deuteronomy (Matt. 4:1–11; see Deut. 8:3; 6:16; 6:13), and, answering the question of the lawyer, gave as the first and great commandment the central sentence of Deuteronomy (Matt. 22:35–38; see Deut. 6:5; 10:12; 30:6). Paul employed the phraseology of Deuteronomy (ch. 30:11–14) to illustrate the idea of righteousness by faith (Rom. 10:6–8).
I. Title and Introduction, 1:1–5.
II. First Oration: Moses’ Announcement of Deposition, 1:6 to 4:43.
A. Events from Sinai to Canaan, 1:6 to 3:29.
B. Admonitions and exhortations to keep the law, 4:1–40.
C. Appointment of cities of refuge, 4:41–43.
III. Second Oration: A Review of the Law, 4:44 to 26:19.
A. Introduction, 4:44–49.
B. The Decalogue the basis of the covenant, 5:1–33.
C. Exhortations to obedience, 6:1 to 11:32.
D. The Book of the Covenant, 12:1 to 26:19.
IV. Third Oration: The Blessing and the Curse, 27:1 to 28:68.
A. Introduction, 27:1–13.
B. The curses, 27:14–26.
C. Blessing and curses, 28:1–68.
V. Fourth Oration: The Covenant in Moab, 29:1 to 30:20.
A. Brief review of events from Egypt to Canaan, 29:1–9.
B. Exhortation to keep the law, 29:10–29.
C. Promise of mercy, 30:1–10.
D. The covenant in the heart, 30:11–20.
VI. The Responsibilities of Leadership Laid Down, 31:1 to 34:12.
A. Moses’ appeal to Joshua and to all Israel, 31:1–29.
B. Moses’ song of victory and parting admonition, 31:30 to 33:29.
C. Moses’ death, burial, and epitaph, 34:1–12.