Moses passing on leadership of the Israelites to Joshua

What is in Deuteronomy?
Deuteronomy, the fifth book in the Bible and the final book of the five-book Pentateuch, describes the continuing journey of the Israelites as they make their way towards the promised land. Deuteronomy is largely a book of laws. Chapters 1-3 cover some of Israel’s history. From Chapters 4 through 30, the book describes many laws of the Israelites, sandwiched in between groups of passages that display commands to love God and follow His commandments, as well as the blessings and curses associated with following Him and not following Him respectively. Many of them have been revealed in former books (for example, the Ten Commandments, first given in Exodus, are restated in Deuteronomy 5). From Chapter 31 on, the 40-year journey to the Promised Land begins to come to an end as Joshua is formally named as Moses’ successor. Later, Moses gets to see the Promised Land for himself before he dies, ending the Pentateuch.

Who wrote it?
Traditionally it is believed that Moses wrote the majority of the book of Deuteronomy, as he did the other books in the Pentateuch. In the New Testament, the Pentateuch is called the Law of Moses by Jesus Himself (Luke 24:44). For Deuteronomy in particular, Deuteronomy 31:9 notes that Moses wrote down ‘this law’, which is taken to mean chapters 1-30. At least one exception to uniform authorship in the book applies, though. Chapter 34 is problematic because it records Moses’ death, so a later author likely stepped in.

When was it written?
There are many textual and cultural clues present to believe that Deuteronomy was written in the second millennium B.C., which supports the idea of Mosaic authorship.

When does it take place?
Deuteronomy takes place in the same generation as Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers. This would have been written during Moses’ lifetime, in either the 13th or 15th century B.C. (see the article on Exodus for more on the problems of dating that book).

Why was it written?
Deuteronomy, like Leviticus, is mostly a book of laws. As with the rest of the Pentateuch, the law was highly valuable to the Israelites as the law of God. God spoke directly to Moses, and Moses in turn wrote what was said to him down so that future generations could know it.

Who is in Deuteronomy?
Deuteronomy still features the Israelites under Moses. At the end, Israelite leadership passes to Joshua, which sets the scene for the next book of the Bible, titled Joshua.

How does Deuteronomy apply to me today?
Deuteronomy stresses the importance of following the Lord’s commandments, not only for the good of the individual, but also for the good of the nation. This is explicitly conveyed in passages like Deuteronomy 28 and 30:11-20 and implicitly conveyed in the rules contained in the book and punishments for breaking those rules. While we do not prescribe death for failure to keep most of these laws today, the fact that the Israelites did showed two things. First, it showed sin’s tendency to snowball to affect the whole community and the commitment to keep that from happening. Secondly, Christ’s sacrifice provides a contrast to the meticulous keeping of the 613 Mosaic laws—the former fulfills the latter. The sacrifice of Christ covers all sacrifices that would have continued to be made otherwise, and sin no longer has the same hold over the world.
Additionally, it’s worth keeping in mind that the laws in the Old Testament are simply pointers that bring us to deeper moral commands. To explain this, look to Matthew 5:21-22. Murder is of course written into the Old Testament laws as one of the ten commandments, but what about anger as well? Jesus says it is a form of murder in your heart. The laws are not meant to be simply taken as they are, but they are to be written upon your heart so that the meaning behind the law is known too.


Recommended resources:

As for all posts in this series, a book introduction in a good study Bible will provide more information than listed here. The ESV Study Bible is one recommendation.


Biblical illustrations by Jim Padgett, courtesy of Sweet Publishing, Ft. Worth, TX, and Gospel Light, Ventura, CA. Copyright 1984. Released under new license, CC-BY-SA 3.0