Deuteronomy Overview: Renewal of a Covenant People


1. Name

The Hebrews gave the fifth book of Moses the title “These are the words,” from the first few words of the book. It came also to be designated by the Jews as “repetition of the law” from the words in Deut. 17:18. The Septuagint rendered Deut. 17:18 “the second law” from which we get “Deuteronomy.” Though it means “the second law/repetition of the law,” it is not just a tedious repetition but a review and specific application of the law, together with a history of God’s dealings with his people

2. Theme

The theme of Deuteronomy has been stated as “Preparation for entry into the Promised Land,”[footnote]G Crossley, The Old Testament Explained and Applied (England: Evangelical Press, 2002), 151.[/footnote] “Obedience is essential,”[footnote]J E Smith, The Pentateuch (Joplin, Mo.: College Press Pub. Co., 1993), Electronic Edition.[/footnote] “Preaching and pleading.”[footnote]Ibid., Electronic Edition.[/footnote]

3. Purpose

To encourage a renewal of the covenant mediated by Moses as Israel was about to enter the Promised Land under Joshua’s leadership.[footnote]Spirit of the Reformation Study Bible (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2003), 252.[/footnote]

4. Key verse

And now, Israel, what doth the LORD thy God require of thee, but to fear the LORD thy God, to walk in all his ways, and to love him, and to serve the LORD thy God with all thy heart and with all thy soul, To keep the commandments of the LORD, and his statutes, which I command thee this day for thy good? (Deut. 10:12-13).

5. Key truths

• The Israelites on the Plains of Moab were to learn the importance of loyalty to the covenant from the experiences of the previous generation.
• The laws of Moses were designed to benefit the people of God as they moved into the Promised Land under Joshua’s leadership.
• Loyalty to the covenant would be rewarded with blessings, and disobedience would be punished with curses.
• The Israelites were to renew their commitment to the covenant as they waited on the plains of Moab and after they entered the Promised Land.[footnote]Ibid., 252.[/footnote]


I. Author

See “Lecture 1: Genesis Overview” regarding general Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch.

A. Critical Viewpoint

The critical reconstruction of Old Testament history contends that Deuteronomy was a forgery created just prior to the great reformation of King Josiah over seven hundred years after the death of Moses. The argument against Mosaic authorship constructs a speculative history of the text as follows:

1. Northern Levites gathered together legal traditions into a “Proto-Deuteronomy” when they defected to Jerusalem.

2. During the time of Josiah’s reforms the book was added to and developed (640-609) (2 Kgs. 22:8).

3. There were further additions in exile (esp. Deut. 28). Indeed the critics argue that any part which mentions exile must have been written post-exile.

B. Mosaic Authorship

1. The words of the book are ascribed to Moses (Deut. 1:1-4; Deut. 4:44-46; Deut. 29:1; Deut. 31:9, Deut. 24-26). Indeed Deuteronomy includes about 40 claims that Moses wrote it.

Deuteronomy presents a clearer self-witness concerning its authorship than any of the other books of the Pentateuch.[footnote]J. Ridderbos, Deuteronomy in “Bible Student’s Commentary” (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1984), p. 19.[/footnote]

2. The details and flavor of the book appears to fit what is known of Late Bronze Age Canaan, not that of Josiah, and geographical and historical details indicate a firsthand knowledge of the period between the Exodus and the Conquest.

The legislation it contains could never have arisen under the conditions which prevailed in the late seventh century BC. The social, economic, and historical situation reflected by this book is quite different from that of Josiah’s time.[footnote]G L Archer, A Survey of Old Testament Introduction (Chicago: Moody Press, 1998), Electronic Edition.[/footnote]

3. The remainder of the Old Testament attributes Deuteronomy and the rest of the Pentateuch to Moses (Josh. 1:7; Judg. 3:4; 1 Kings 2:3; Ezra 3:2; Ps. 103:7; Mal. 4:4).

4. Christ Himself directly attributes it to Moses (Matt. 19:7-9 ; John 5:45-47 ).

5. Recent studies have shown that Deuteronomy appears to follow the treaty form used in the fifteenth and fourteenth centuries BC, a form appropriate for this covenant renewal document.

6. The Book provides an eminently suitable literary and theological conclusion to the Mosaic literature.

The older generation of Israel has died, and the younger must now be confronted with a fresh, contemporary expression of the covenant. Deuteronomy is a covenant initiative to which Israel, on the eve of the adventure of conquest, can and must respond.[footnote]E H Merrill, Kingdom of Priests (Grand Rapids: Baker Books House, 1992), 91.[/footnote]

7. The theological terminology used, especially for the names of God, do not resemble the language used by the prophets of the seventh century and thereafter.

At the very least a Josianic work should have reflected the divine titles most in vogue during the ministry of Jeremiah, Josiah’s contemporary. But the actual statistics show quite the contrary.[footnote]G L Archer, A Survey of Old Testament Introduction (Chicago: Moody Press, 1998), Electronic Edition.[/footnote]

8. The numerous references to the danger of Canaanite religion upon Israel suggest a danger still threatening the author’s generation. It certainly seems as if it is a future menace to be dealt with, rather than an element of corruption that has already endured for centuries.

9. There are numerous appeals to the hearers to recall past episodes and conditions that are within the hearer’s memories.

In the earlier chapters of Deuteronomy particularly, there are numerous appeals to the hearers to recall past episodes and conditions which are within the memory of those who are being addressed. The memory of the Egyptian bondage is especially vivid. Six times the phrase occurs, “the house of bondage”; five times we read, “Remember that thou wast a bondman in the land of Egypt”; five times the formula appears, “through a mighty hand and by a stretched out arm.”[footnote]G L Archer, A Survey of Old Testament Introduction (Chicago: Moody Press, 1998), Electronic Edition.[/footnote]

10. The “problem” of Moses’ death in Deut. 34:1-12 can be explained either as an inspired Mosaic prophecy or as an inspired post-Mosaic addition.

This does not endanger in the slightest the Mosaic authenticity of the other thirty-three chapters, for the closing chapter furnishes only that type of obituary which is often appended to the final work of great men of letters. An author’s final work is often published posthumously (provided he has been writing up to the time of his death). Since Joshua is recorded to have been a faithful and zealous custodian of the Torah, Moses’ literary achievement, it is quite unthinkable that he would have published it without appending such a notice of the decease of his great predecessors.[footnote]Ibid., Electronic Edition.[/footnote]


II. Date

Deuteronomy was written largely on the Plains of Moab as the Israelites prepared to enter the Promised Land around 1406 BC. It was finally put together between the death of Moses and the renewal of covenant at Shechem (Josh. 8:30-35).
The original audience was, therefore, the second generation of the exodus. The unbelieving first generation had all died in the wilderness, which God had promised would be the consequence of their sin (Num. 32:10-13). The second generation was spared by God with a view to His preserving of a holy people; also to keep His promise of the Land to them. With Moses having disqualified himself from entering the land, in Deuteronomy he restates God’s law in a renewal of the covenant, and also directs them to follow Joshua’s leadership when he is gone.

III. Historical Analysis

1. Capstone of the Pentateuch

It has been argued that Deuteronomy is the most important book in the Old Testament. The capstone of the Pentateuch; it gives the climatic and consummate form of the Old Covenant. Gordon McConville has described it as “one of the great theological documents of the Bible, or of any time…As the final book of the Pentateuch and the great Mosaic invitation to life in covenant with Yahweh, it … goes to the heart of the great issues of the relationship between God and human beings.”

2. History of the Past

In Deuteronomy, Moses appealed to past events to counsel and warn the present generation of Israel. Just as Chronicles supplements Samuel-Kings, so Deuteronomy supplements the history given in Exodus to Numbers.

3. History for the Future

Deuteronomy informs the theology of Israel’s future prophets, providing both for their succession after Moses and the theological material for their interpretation of Israel’s history, both its judgment and its hope for restoration. The classical prophets are the branches that spring from Deuteronomy’s root.

4. Preparation for death

Moses also used Deuteronomy to prepare the people for his own death. In some respects it is “the last will and testament of Moses.” There is a great deal of emphasis on Moses’ successor Joshua (Deut. 1:38; Deut. 11:29-30; Deut. 27:1f).

5. The Necessity of Deuteronomy.

There were a number of historical factors which made the writing of Deuteronomy necessary. They are summed up by J E Smith:

(1) A new generation had arisen. (2) A new land filled with gross religious corruption was before them. (3) New dangers confronted them. (4) The new prospects, however, were for settlement at last in a homeland. (5) Militarily, economically and spiritually, new challenges faced God’s people. (6) The transition from semi-nomadic to agricultural life necessitated the promulgation of new duties. (7) A new leader was about to emerge.[footnote]J E Smith, The Pentateuch (Joplin, Mo.: College Press Pub. Co., 1993), Electronic Edition.[/footnote]


IV. Literary Analysis

1. Comparative Outlines

Mayes Kline Pratt Murray
First Address
(Deut. 1:1-4:43)Second Address
(Deut. 4:44-28:68)Third Address
(Deut. 29:1-30:20)Appendix
(Deut. 31:1-34:12)
(Deut. 1:1-5)Historical prologue
(Deut. 1:6-4:49)Covenant Stipulations/Great Command
(Deut. 5:1-11:32)Ancillary Commands
(Deut. 12:1-26:19)Covenant Sanctions
(Deut. 27:1-30:20)Dynastic Disposition
(Deut. 31:1-34:12)How to hand on the covenant.
(Deut. 1:1-4)Historical Prologue
(Deut. 1:5-4:43)Stipulations
(Deut. 4:44-26:19)Blessings, curses and
ratification (Deut. 27:1-30:20)Succession
(Deut. 31:1-34:12)
Covenant prologue:
What God has done
(Deut. 1:1-4:43)Covenant stipulations:
What Israel should do
(Deut. 4:44-26:19)Covenant ratification:
What God will do
(Deut. 27-34)

2. Original Audience/Message

As has been already stated, Moses wrote to the second generation of the Exodus.

The [second] generation needed to claim the covenant and its promises for themselves. It was time for the covenant of Sinai to become the covenant of Moab as well (Deut. 29:1). The Book of Deuteronomy relates the re-establishment of the covenant with Israel, including the laws of the covenant.[footnote]B Arnold and B Beyer, Encountering the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1999), 142.[/footnote]

3. Deuteronomy as speech

Mayes outline above follows the classic understanding of Deuteronomy as a series of three addresses by Moses to Israel on the plains of Moab.

Each address begins by specifying the location and set¬ting in which it was given (Deut. 1:5; Deut. 4:44-49; Deut. 29:1). Moses’ first address (Deut. 1-4) is oriented toward the past and recounts Israel’s journey to the border of the land. The second address (Deut. 5-28) is oriented to the future and concerns Israel’s life under the law in the land. In the third address (Deut. 29-32), the nation is led in covenant renewal. These addresses are then supplemented with an account of Moses’ death (Deut. 33-34).[footnote]R Dillard and T Longman III, Introduction to the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1995), 99.[/footnote]

J E Smith divides the speeches into five as follows:

(“The Instruction of the Nation”)

the Journey
the Law
Deut. 1–4 Deut. 5–26 Deut. 27–28 Deut. 29–30 Deut. 31–34

[footnote]J E Smith, The Pentateuch (Joplin, Mo.: College Press Pub. Co., 1993), Electronic Edition.[/footnote]

4. Deuteronomy as a covenant

Second millennium Hittite treaties bear a remarkable resemblance to the format and structure of Deuteronomy.

a. Preamble (Deut. 1:1-4)

The parties were identified in the treaty preamble. The suzerain was identified and his titles and attributes listed. Israel’s covenant was with the God of Moses.

b. Historical Prologue (Deut. 1:5-4:43)

This was followed by a historical prologue in which the past relationship between the suzerain and the vassal was recounted, emphasizing the beneficence of the king to his servant. Israel was to remember what God had done and feel obligated to Him and His new stipulations for favors already received.

c. Stipulations (Deut. 4:44-26:19)

The stipulations contained the detailed laws agreed to by the vassal in his submission to the suzerain. The most prominent demand was for the exclusive allegiance of the vassal to his covenant lord. The stipulations ordi¬narily included provisions for the tribute the vassal was to bring to his lord in his annual visits to him; in the con¬text of Israel’s relationship with Yahweh, this tribute consisted in part of the required offerings and sacrifices specified in the priestly laws. Israel was under covenant obligations. The stipulations are general (Deut. 5-11) and specific (Deut. 12-26).

When a Hittite king renewed a treaty with a vassal state – usually after a change of monarch – he would bring the stipulations up to date, and this may explain some of the changes in the specific laws found in chapters 12–26. The new generation faced special problems as they anticipated life in the land of Canaan. A major change had to do with the location and manner of their worship, and the first and last chapters in this section both deal with the subject of presenting tithes and offerings (Deut. 12:4–14; Deut. 26:1–15).[footnote]H Wolf, An Introduction to the Old Testament Pentateuch (Chicago: Moody Press, 1991), Electronic Edition[/footnote]

d. Blessings, curses, and ratification (Deut. 27:1-30:20)

There then followed a lengthy list of blessings and curses that would follow obedience or dis¬obedience to the covenant stipulations. These blessings and curses were invoked in the names of the gods of both suzerain and vassal. Israel must remember the blessings, curses and ratification of the covenant.

e. Succession (Deut. 31:1-34:12)

Joshua is named as the covenant mediator to succeed Moses.

f. Witnesses (Deut. 30:19; Deut. 31:28)

The gods were invoked as witnesses to the oaths accompanying ratification. In God’s covenant with Israel there could be no thought of invoking third-party deities to witness the ratification of the covenant; instead, “heaven and earth” are called to fulfill this function (cf., Deut. 4:26).

g. Public reading (Deut. 31:9-22)

The treaties included provisions for future public readings of the covenant document in order to remind both suzerain and vassal of their duties under its provisions (Deut. 31:9-22). The treaties contained provisions for the vassal’s sons to succeed their father.

h. Deposit of copies

Duplicate copies of the treaty document were made (“two tables of the law” Ex. 34:1, Deut. 10:1-5; Deut. 17:18-19; Deut. 31:24-26), one each to be deposited in the respective sanctuaries of the suzerain and vassal. Since this sanctuary was one and the same in the covenant between God and Israel, the tablets were placed in the ark.

5. Deuteronomy as a constitution

Some have argued that Deuteronomy should be understood as the archetype and forerunner of modern Western constitutionalism.

If Deuteronomy was in fact a treaty-covenant document, as well as having features of a law code, it in effect became the “constitution” of ancient Israel. It was the writ¬ten deposit that defined her social order, the codification of her legal principles and procedures, and her self-understanding under the rule of God. As a document it administered the covenant life of God’s people.[footnote]R Dillard and T Longman III, Introduction to the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1995), 99.[/footnote]

6. Deuteronomy as an exposition of the Decalogue

Deuteronomy has also been seen as an elucidation of the underlying moral principles set forth in the Ten Commandments. However, it is more exhortation than legislation – so that its provisions tend to be less technical or specific than other codes. Deuteronomy is more interested in the “spirit” than the “letter” of the law. It is not to be regarded as merely a recapitulation of the three previous books, but rather, as Keil said:

It is a hortatory description, explanation, and enforcement of the most essential contents of the covenant revelation and covenant laws, with emphatic prominence given to the spiritual principle of the law and its fulfillment, and with a further development of the ecclesiastical, judicial, political, and civil organization, which was intended as a permanent foundation for the life and well-being of the people in the land of Canaan.” In no sense is its legislation to be regarded as a new or second law, differing essentially from that of the previous books of the Pentateuch.[footnote]Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsch, Commentary on the Old Testament, vol. 1 (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1996), 845.[/footnote]

The Book of Deuteronomy can be summarized in the caption “Preaching and Pleading.” Here Moses poured out his heart in urging Israel to be faithful to the Lord. The book contains thirty-four chapters, 958 verses, and 28,461 words. Almost every verse in the book is filled with exhortation, instruction, warning or promise. Deuteronomy speaks of the past but not with the purpose of presenting a chronicle. Rather Moses reminded his auditors of selected events which then become the basis for exhortation and warning in the present.[footnote]J E Smith, The Pentateuch (Joplin, Mo.: College Press Pub. Co., 1993), Electronic Edition.[/footnote]

7. Deuteronomy as chiasm

a A look backwards (Deut. 1-3)

b The covenant summary (Deut. 4-11)

c Covenant stipulations (Deut. 12-26)

b’ Covenant ceremony (Deut. 27-30)

a’ A look forwards (Deut. 31-34).

This literary analysis of Deuteronomy in a chiasmic structure helps to emphasizes the central point of Deuteronomy, the body of legal instruction for ancient Israel.

8. Canonical context

Deuteronomy is related to what went before it and what follows it. The Deuteronomic covenant bridges the Sinai covenant with life in the Promised Land. Deuteronomy also forms a literary bridge between the Pentateuch and the Historical books. It is a fitting conclusion to the monumental piece of literature which is the Pentateuch. It also prepares Israel for her life in the Promised Land and lays the literary and theological foundation for the historical books.

Deuteronomy is the foundation stone for the so-called Deuteronomistic history. The books of Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings comprise a unit of historical books with a strong Deuteronomistic emphasis. Deuteronomy sets the stage on which the drama described in the historical books takes place. The covenant’s call to choose between life and death, blessings and cursing, is a prelude to the story of national Israel. God’s people stand on the verge of nationhood in Canaan. Deuteronomy becomes the nation’s formative constitution. It is a covenant renewal document, which also prescribes their future relationship with God, with each other, and with surrounding nations. The expression of Israel’s relationship to God in the form of a covenant is the most important Old Testament expression of Israelite faith. This is the distinguishing characteristic of Hebrew religion.[footnote]B Arnold and B Beyer, Encountering the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1999), 152.[/footnote]


V. Thematic Analysis

1. Principles of Deuteronomy

Spirituality of God Deut. 4:12,15,16
Uniqueness & Unity of God Deut. 4:35,39; Deut. 6:4; Deut. 7:9; Deut. 10:17
Relationship of love between God and His covenant people Deut. 4:37; Deut. 7:13; Deut. 33:3
Love for God the dynamic principle of the believer’s life Deut. 6:5; Deut. 7:8; Deut. 10:12,15; Deut. 11:1,13,22; Deut. 13:3; Deut. 19:9; Deut. 30:6,16,20
Idolatry to be totally shunned Deut. 6:14,15; Deut. 7:4; Deut. 8:19,20; Deut. 11:16,17,20; Deut. 13:2-12; Deut. 30:17-18
Live as a holy people Deut. 7:6; Deut. 26:19; Deut. 28:9
Faithfulness rewarded; violation punished Deut. 28-30
Retain and obey the revealed truth from God “Remember and forget not” Deut. 9:7

[footnote]J E Smith, The Pentateuch (Joplin, Mo.: College Press Pub. Co., 1993), Electronic Edition.[/footnote]

2. The Promised Land

While Exodus deals with Israel’s redemption from Egypt, Deuteronomy emphasizes the borders of the Promised Land right at the outset (Deut. 1:7-8) and throughout.

a. Divine Gift

Yahweh’s ownership of Palestine arises from his sovereignty over all things, from His lordship of creation (Deut. 32:8-9). This means He can give it to whom and however He wills.

The land is repeatedly described as “the land that the God of your fathers is giving to you.” Once again the book emphasizes the prior action and initiative of the Lord in his gracious provision for Israel in accord with his promises to the fathers. In 131 of the 167 times the verb “give” occurs in the book, the subject of the action is Jehovah. The gracious and multiple gifts of God to his people are a sustained theme.[footnote]R Dillard and T Longman III, Introduction to the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1995), 104.[/footnote]

b. Human Responsibility

While the land is God’s gift, Israel is required to take it by military conquest. Maintaining possession of it is also tied in with obedience to the divine commands.

Possessing the land in the first place and keeping it in the second are both tied to Israel’s obedience to God’s commands (Deut. 4:25; Deut. 6:18; Deut. 8:1; Deut. 11:8-9,18-21; Deut. 16:20). Obedience to the righteous commands of God not only will result in possessing and keeping the land, but also will bring prosperity and well-being, whereas disobedience issues in disaster, disease, death, and the loss of the land.[footnote]Ibid., 105[/footnote]

The tension between Divine Sovereignty and human responsibility, grace and law is present throughout.

Here law and grace are held in an unrelieved tension, the very tension that energizes the remainder of the Deuteronomic History. What was to become of Israel? Which would prevail – threat or promise?[footnote]Ibid., 105[/footnote]

c. Rest

The possession of the land is tied up with rest and freedom from threats.

This concept of rest finds frequent expression (Deut. 3:20; Deut. 12:9; Deut. 25:19) and is bound up with the notion of a pleasant life (Deut. 15:4; Deut. 23:20; Deut. 28:8; Deut. 30:16). Israel is to enjoy without threat the blessings of creation in her Eden-like situation. Like Adam in the garden, Israel is meant to enjoy the blessings of creation and to worship before God in ever-increasing awareness of the significance of the di¬vine presence. Deuteronomy insists that only a correct view of Yahweh and a proper response to his gift can secure this rest.[footnote]W J Dumbrell, The Faith of Israel (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2002), 65-66.[/footnote]

d. The law of the land

Many laws are associated with the land and almost all the blessings of Deuteronomy are connected with the land. The land is set forth as the place where God will bless and prosper if Israel obeys

The land is not only the context in which blessing and life and prosperity take place. It is also the sphere in which Israel does what Yahweh desires and in which obedience will be visible (Deut. 4:5,14; Deut. 5:31; Deut. 6:12; Deut. 12:1).[footnote]Source unknown.[/footnote]

4. Law and Love

a. Law

Analyzing the emphasis on obedience in Deuteronomy, Griffith Thomas offers the following:

(i) The necessity of obedience: the law of God.
(ii) The motive for obedience: the goodness of God.
(iii) The standard of obedience: the word of God.
(iv) The incentive to obedience: the faithfulness of God.
(v) The alternative to obedience: the justice of God.[footnote]J E Smith, The Pentateuch (Joplin, Mo.: College Press Pub. Co., 1993), Electronic Edition.[/footnote]

b. Love

Law in Deuteronomy is complemented with the command to love God, which is but a just return for God’s love to Israel.

The totality of the law is thus comprehended in one demand (Deut. 6:4-5). Love, however, is more than mere affection or devotion. Love always appears in association with some activity: walking in the Lord’s ways (Deut. 10:12), keeping the Lord’s commandments (Deut. 5:10), obeying the Lord’s voice (Deut. 13:4). Love thus demands that the person engage in practices that demonstrate covenant fidelity. We need to understand that Deuteronomy sets the context for love and the demands that flow from love. Israel is constantly reminded of her previous servitude in Egypt. Redemption has now made her a bond-slave to Yahweh.[footnote]W J Dumbrell, The Faith of Israel (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2002), 66-67.[/footnote]

5. God’s Name

Deuteronomy refers to the name of God twenty-one times. Some critics have argued that this is a “demythologizing” of the divine presence. In other words, what is present is not God himself (for he dwells in heaven), but his “name.” However, the contexts in which the “name” is invoked usually involved personal devotion and relationship where covenant is the predominant theme. Proclaiming God’s name, therefore, is to publicly declare His character especially in His relations with His people (Deut. 32:3). Also, when God places His name on a place, nation or person this implies ownership.

In Deuteronomy, where the emphasis is on possessing the land and on Israel’s covenant with God, expressing God’s presence through his “name” reminds the nation of his ownership and dominion. Rather than diminish or correct the notion of God’s presence, God’s name in Deuteronomy affirms the very real presence of God in the fullness of his character and covenantal commitment to those on whom he had set that name.[footnote]R Dillard and T Longman III, Introduction to the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1995), 103.[/footnote]

6. God’s Word

In Deuteronomy there is a strong emphasis on the word of God as written. The people of Israel had originally heard the voice of God at Sinai, and were so terrified by the experience that they did not want it repeated. So God committed His Word to human mediators to speak and write down.

As a covenant document, the words of the “book of the law” that Moses wrote governed, structured, and defined the nation’s relationship with her suzerain Lord and with one another. The book reaffirms in Israel the idea of a “canon,” a collection of written materials by which the life of the nation would be administered. God’s word in the book is not only the written documents that govern life under the covenant; it is also the authoritative preaching and teaching of Moses and those who would come after him.[footnote]Ibid., 103-4.[/footnote]

7. Centralization of Worship

Deuteronomy repeatedly describes Israel’s worship at “the place the LORD your God will choose” (Deut. 12:5,11,14,18,21,26; Deut. 14:23-25; Deut. 15:20; Deut. 16:2,6,11,15; Deut. 17:8,10; Deut. 18:6; Deut. 26:2). This made critical scholars conclude that the book springs from the time of Josiah’s efforts to centralize worship in Jerusalem. However, this is hardly sufficient reason to insist on a late date for the book. Also, although centralized worship is required the place is not specified, and indeed is presented as varied at times (see altar at Shechem in Deut. 27).

So, what is being emphasized in Deuteronomy 12 is not the need to centralize everything in Jerusalem, but rather the contrast between the numerous places the Canaanites decided to worship as they chose, and the one place that God would choose for Israel in the future.

Just as God had chosen the nation, so also he would choose the place and the char¬acter of worship there. What is new in the later choice of Jerusalem is not the idea of cen¬tralization itself, but rather that Israel would now have a permanent sanctuary instead of a portable one. Worshiping God at the place he had chosen and in the way he had prescribed was but one part of Israel’s covenant allegiance; it reflected at a national level the status of Israel as a treasured people (Deut. 7:6; Deut. 14:2; Deut. 26:18), set apart as holy to the Lord. But this law did not eliminate the possibility that the chosen place might change at various times.[footnote]R Dillard and T Longman III, Introduction to the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1995), 104.[/footnote]

Perhaps the formula “the place which the Lord your God shall choose” (Deut. 12:5) establishes the principle of the sole altar but, for the time being, leaves the particular site undecided. In any case, the emphasis is on Yahweh and not on the place. It is noteworthy, in connection with the sanctuary, that the key chapter of Deuteronomy 12 opens (Deut. 12:1-4) and closes (Deut. 12:29-31) with a polemic directed against Canaanite gods. In Deuteronomy we probably have to distinguish between a central sanctuary and a sole sanctuary. Josiah’s reform gives the impression of the desire to create Jerusalem as a sole sanctuary and not merely as the central sanctuary.[footnote]W J Dumbrell, The Faith of Israel (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2002), 65.[/footnote]

8. Uniqueness

Three fundamental truths are taught in Deuteronomy.

a. Yahweh is unique (Deut. 6:4; Deut. 4:35; Deut. 10:17; Deut. 7:25)

b. Israel is unique (Deut. 7:6; Deut. 4:31; Deut. 6:23 ).

c. God and Israel have a unique relationship (Deut. 29:13; Deut. 32:6; Deut. 10:12ff)

In some respects Deuteronomy portrays what an ideal Israel would be. It presents an Israel with “one God, one people, one land, one sanctuary, and one law.[footnote]R Dillard and T Longman III, Introduction to the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1995), 102.[/footnote]


VI. New Testament Analysis

1. Quotations

Deuteronomy is quoted some eighty times in the New Testament and is cited in all books except for John, Colossians, 1 Thessalonians, 2 Timothy, and 1 and 2 Peter. Few books of the Old Testament have had as great an impact on the authors of the New Testament as Deuteronomy. Jesus quoted this book more often than from any other book, suggesting its effect on shaping his theology.

2. Parallel with John’s Gospel

The first three gospels relate the life of Christ in a fairly straightforward, historical fashion. John’s Gospel doesn’t do this at all. Rather, he dwells more on the lessons to be learned from the life of Christ, and dwells on the particular speeches of Jesus. The relationship between Deuteronomy and the previous books of the Pentateuch is similar.

3. Covenant Mediator

As mediator of the Old Covenant, Moses foreshadowed Jesus Christ, the mediator of the New Covenant. As in the New Covenant, in the Old Covenant grace comes before obedience, and obedience is the proof of real faith. The Old Covenant was focused on the blood of animals; the New Covenant with the blood of Christ. Although Moses called for a religion of the heart (Deut. 6:6; Deut. 30:6), human weakness made this rare (Ro. 8:3; Heb. 8:13). However, in the New Covenant, heart-change is accomplished through Jesus Christ and His Spirit. The Deuteronomic insistence on one sanctuary (Deut. 12), foreshadows the New Testament insistence on Christ as the only Savior.

4. The Promised Land

Deuteronomy raises the real hope of life in the Promised Land. This foreshadows the real hope of the new heavens and earth. Just as Moses demanded loyal obedience to God in order to enter and secure the Land, so also Christ demands loyal obedience to be sure of our title to the future Promised Land and its blessings.


VII. The Message of Deuteronomy

Original Message: Israel should renew their commitment to the Mosaic covenant under a new leader (Joshua) facing new challenges.
Present Message: The church should renew its commitment to the Mosaic covenant under a new leader (Christ) facing new challenges.