What is the Book of Deuteronomy All About?

Here’s an overview of the book of Deuteronomy, featuring the main idea and it’s explanation, the purpose and main themes of the book, and a section on what it means to us, along with some study questions.

Main Idea

As the second generation of the children of Israel are now ready to enter the promised land, Moses, before he dies (Deut. 34), delivers a series of sermons to exhort, encourage, remind, and warn the people (Deut. 1:6-33:29).

Explanation of Main Idea

It was an eleven day journey from Egypt to the promised land which turned into forty years (Deut. 1:2-3) because of the Israelites’ lack of faith and constant complaining (Num. 14). Recipients of God’s judgement, the adults all died in the wilderness; the children were now grown and ready to take the land. Moses, who was also going to die because of his unfaithfulness (Deut. 32:51), was told by God to speak to this new generation, obviously to prepare them the battles, external and internal, that lay ahead.

Moses calls this new generation to covenant faithfulness (Deut. 4), declaring that “obedience…will lead to life and blessing.” Expositing the Law (Torah) (1:5), he vividly sets before them what living as God’s people is supposed to look like. Their relationship with God, with each other, and with their neighbours are all addressed. They are to be a people of love and devotion, demonstrating God’s holiness and justice for all to see (Deut. 12-26).

At the word of the Lord, Moses predicts they will fail (Deut. 31:16-21). They are duly warned as a full array of curses is given as a consequence to their future disobedience (Deut. 28:15-68). This is in stark contrast to a short list of blessings for obedience (Deut. 28:1-17). In spite of the bleak outlook, the Lord “will indeed vindicate his people and have compassion on his servants when he sees that their strength is gone” (Deut. 32:36). God will keep His covenant and rescue His people!

Purpose

The book of Deuteronomy was written to teach us that living as the people of God means that we are a people of devotion and love (Deut. 6:5) and no matter how often we fail God will continue to be faithful to us. God chose Israel to be His people, not because they were special or significant in any way (Deut. 7:7). He chose them simply because He loved them (Deut. 7:8).

While we are not Israel, and while we are not under the law (Rom. 6:14), we are still His people and we are loved by Him. As we imagine what it would be like to perfectly obey the laws of Deuteronomy, we see an image of love, devotion to God, and holy justice. The greatest commandment, as given to us by Jesus in Matthew 22:37, is quoted from Deuteronomy 6:6, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength.”

Leading Themes

  1. God is after devotion and love.
    The Hebrew word for “love” (‘ahav) occurs twenty-five times in Deuteronomy. Of all the Old Testament books, only in Psalms (the longest book in the Bible) does it occur more. The most significant of these occurrences is in The Great Shema of Deut. 6:4-6 where whole-hearted, complete love for God is commanded.
    But not only is love commanded, but obedience. Deut. 6:4, the beginning of The Great Shema, declares “Listen, Israel…” (Deut. 6:4). The word for “listen” in Hebrew is “shema”. There is no word separate word for “obedience” in Hebrew, rather the word “shema” is used. To listen, then, is to obey. The whole of Deuteronomy calls us to listen  (obey) and love.
  2. Social justice reflects God’s heart.
    God loves the poor! Deut. 14:28-29 describes one of the ways they are cared. Every three years 1/10th of all produce was to be stored within the city gates so that the “Levite, who has no portion…, the resident alien, the fatherless, and the widow…may come, eat, and be satisfied.” Deut. 24:19 speaks of leaving forgotten sheafs in a field for those who need them. God loves and cares for people and we are like Him when we show this love to others.

  3. People are prone to disobedience.
    What is it with the Israelites?! They just can’t consistently do the right thing. They are going to turn away from God and follow the sinful practices of the nations around them (Deut. 31:16-17). Of course, this does not surprise us because it is the story of mankind and it is our story: we, as well, are prone to disobedience.
  4. God’s people need instruction.
    The whole book of Deuteronomy is a sermon! Moses exposits, or explains, the law. He is taking the words that God has given to His people, and commenting on it, bringing clarity to it and explaining it’s meaning and application. He even ends his sermon by singing! He writes a song to help people remember what he has just told them, specifically, the warning not to turn away from the Lord. What better way to help people remember his main points then by teaching them a melody!
  5. Hope is coming.
    Although the Israelites will turn away from the Lord, Moses predicts that God will “circumcise (their) heart, and the hearts of (their) descendants and (they) will love Him with (their) heart and with all (their) soul” (Deut. 30:6). This is pointing to a future time when sin will be no more and God will live in uninterrupted peace and goodness with His people. This is also echoed in Moses’ blessing at the end of the book when God proclaims that “Israel dwells…untroubled in a land of grain and new wine (where) even his skies drip with dew” (Deut. 33:28).

How Does This Relate to Us?

The message of Deuteronomy is to listen to God, obey Him, and love Him with all  your heart, soul, and strength. Jesus taught that this was the greatest command. Everywhere we go, we should seek to love God. This attitude should pervade our worship, prayer, Bible reading, and relationships. If we do this, we will truly reflect His heart in the world today. This is what we need to experience and it is what this lonely world needs to see.

The social justice list today is long: human trafficking, poverty, the need for clean water, orphans left in the street, racial injustice, greed, euthanasia, and on and on. As we meditate on the message of Deuteronomy, we need to reflect as well on how we can love those around us and express God’s heart to the most vulnerable and disadvantaged in the world today. “What is God calling me to do?” is the question we all must answer.

If we are honest, we see ourselves standing between Mount Garazim and Mount Ebal listening to the proclamation of blessings for obedience and warnings of disobedience, and we tremble, knowing that we are prone to turn away from the Lord. We can’t do it! We rejoice in the One who has done it for us. Deuteronomy helps us to magnify Jesus as it gives us a clearer picture of what it means to fulfill the law — it means to listen and obey perfectly and to love completely. That’s Jesus!

Study Questions

Textual Questions

  1. Look at Deut. 1:1-3. How long was the Israelites’ journey supposed to take? How long did it actually take? Why?
  2. In Deut. 7:6, Israel is called “a holy people belonging to the LORD your God” and goes on to describe them being chosen by God. What reason is given for God choosing them as His people? What does this tell you about God? the Israelites?
  3. Blessing for obedience and curses for disobedience are outlined in Deut. 28. How many verses are devoted to each? Why do you think this is?
  4. In chapter 32, Moses ends his sermon by singing! Why do you think he did this? What was the message of his song?

Life Application Questions

  1. Jesus quoted Deut. 6:5 as the greatest commandment. Why do you think this is “the greatest commandment”? How would you life look different if you could perfectly obey this?
  2. Parents, what can we learn about discipling our children from Deut. 6:4-9?
  3. Read Deut. 15:7-11. How were the poor treated in the community? How should we treat the poor? What can you do to help the poor?
  4. What is the key to a full life as seen in Deut. 32:44-47? How can you improve your relationship with God based on this passage?

Copyright © 2018 Pat Sieler