Jesus quoted more from Deuteronomy than any other book, and it is in fact the most quoted in all of the New Testament. The Hebrew title of the fifth Book of Law (Deuteronomy) is “Eleh ha-devarim” or “Elleh haddebarim” which means “these are the words” or more simply “the Words.” The English title comes from the Greek “Deuteronomion” which means “second law” or, more appropriately, “a repetition of the law.”
But the name is thought likely to be the result of a mistranslation of the phrase in Deuteronomy 17:18 “copy of this law.” In actuality, the book stresses that it is the preaching of Moses, on the plains of Moab, of the original law given at Sinai (Deuteronomy 4:44-45). Sinai is referred to often in Deuteronomy as “Horeb.” Ok, so we are admittedly splitting hairs here, but the distinction seems important.
In verse 2, the statement about Horeb being 11 days journey from Kadesh-Barnea, is followed in verse 3 by the fact that Moses is speaking to them in the fortieth year. This really serves to accentuate the point of how much time has been wasted, which is exactly why Moses is preaching these sermons to them before they enter Canaan to complete the journey that God has ordained for them.
The first speech (from Deuteronomy 1:6-4:43) begins with the recounting of their failure 40 years ago. The purpose of the ensuing history is to focus them on the land and the task at hand, as well as to stress the importance for them to fully put their trust in the Lord this time – unlike what their parents had done.
The first part of Moses second speech (Deuteronomy 4:44-11:32) begins with some recounting of points of the covenant with the Lord, and a reprisal of the Ten Commandments. But just as importantly, it contains some of the strongest warnings about the importance of complete obedience to the Lord’s commands, particularly where their conquests of Canaan are concerned. When told to “devote them all to destruction,” the warning is explained in detail as to what consequences will result from failure to do so (Deuteronomy 7). This also prompts further warnings against inter-marrying with the godless people in the land. Warnings against idolatry are punctuated with a reminder of the failure of the golden calf incident of Exodus 32. The second part of this long speech (Deuteronomy 12:1-26:19) deals with more specific points of the covenant, proper worship and observance of the Feasts, “clean” and “unclean” animals, justice, and marriage.
Moses’ third speech (Deuteronomy 27-28) deals with blessings and curses (consequences of keeping versus not keeping their part of the covenant’s requirements), and more specific details concerning their treatment of each other, sexual morality, treatment of their fellow-man and dealings with other nations. The dire consequences of the “curses” are emphasized in great specific detail that foreshadows the fate of the captivity and destruction that will come to pass in the Book of Kings. The second part of this speech (Deuteronomy 29-30) underscores the importance of Israel’s acceptance of, and adherence to, the covenant – as well as a reminder of their tendency to “forget” about their dependence on the Lord.
The remainder of the book focuses on the naming of Joshua as successor to Moses, his commissioning, as well that of the writing of the law (Deuteronomy 31:1-29). That is followed by the Song of Moses (Deuteronomy 31:30-32:47), Moses’ final blessing and farewell (Deuteronomy 32:48-33:29), and finally his death (Deuteronomy 34).
image © V. Gilbert & Arlisle F. Beers
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