Remember that the Exodus happened around 1440 B.C., and the book of Deuteronomy was given at the tail end of the forty years in the wilderness, just a short time prior to the invasion of Canaan. This puts it right around 1400 B.C. The name Deuteronomy refers to a “second giving” of the law. In this book, the second bookend of the law is placed at the very end their wilderness experience. The first giving of the law was at Sinai, forty years before, and now they are reminded of the law again on the plains of Moab.
“For this commandment which I command thee this day, it is not hidden from thee, neither is it far off. It is not in heaven, that thou shouldest say, Who shall go up for us to heaven, and bring it unto us, that we may hear it, and do it? Neither is it beyond the sea, that thou shouldest say, Who shall go over the sea for us, and bring it unto us, that we may hear it, and do it? But the word is very nigh unto thee, in thy mouth, and in thy heart, that thou mayest do it” (Dt. 30:11-14).
Summary of the Text
This book emphasizes the exclusive claims of YHWH, the covenant God of Israel. The book anticipates a central location for worship, once Israel takes the land. Speaking of “the land,” that is a word that is mentioned over a hundred times in this book. Their focus is forward-looking. The laws of this book are very much concerned for the poor. The Ten Commandments are repeated over again, in chapter 5. As we noted in our section on Genesis, this book is one of the most frequently quoted books of the Old Testament in the New. Jesus quotes it frequently—if Jesus had a favorite book, wouldn’t you want to read it? Wouldn’t you want to understand it, and love it?
One of the ancient literary structuring devices is used here, and is called a chiasm. A chiasm is a device that folds a piece of writing in half, with the matching parts found either in contrast or in parallel. So then, if I were to mention apples, grapefruit, mangos, oranges, more mangos, larger grapefruit, and redder apples, I have given you a chiasm— with the hinge of the chiasm being the oranges. That center often represents the point of emphasis.
In skeletal structure, it looks like this:
In the way this chiasm works, you could read A and A’ as one continuous thought, and do the same for B and B’.
A. retrospective look (1-3)
B. A strong exhortation (4-11)
C. The standards of the covenant (12-26)
B’ The covenant ceremonial (27-30)
A’ A prospective look (31-34)
Things to Note About Deuteronomy
We noted, back in Leviticus, that the second greatest commandment in Scripture, the requirement to love your neighbor as yourself, was found there (Lev. 19:18). The first and greatest commandment is found here in Deuteronomy (Dt. 6:45). The Jews called this section the Shema—“Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is one . . .” The greatest commandment is to love God with everything available to you. That greatest commandment is found in a passage that is talking about covenant education. This being the case, the way many modern Christians take a lackadaisical approach to their children’s education is just chilling. We are called to love and teach our children, not experiment on them. They are given to you as a solemn charge and responsibility, not as a venue for personal laziness. Educating your children properly will be the hardest thing you ever do. It is also the most blessed, the most fruitful.
And all this relates to another feature of Deuteronomy. Of course, the entire Bible is monotheistic, but the book of Deuteronomy is fiercely so. Deuteronomy requires the Israelites to invade Canaan with a war of annihilation—there was to be absolutely no compromise with the gods of the land (2:34; 3:6; 7:1-6, 23-26; 12:1-3; 13:6-18; 16:21-17:7; 20:16-18).
This book did not prevent Israel from falling into various apostasies during her history, but this book did set the pitch for all the prophetic denunciations of those apostasies, and also set the stage for what has been called the Deuteronomic Histories (Joshua through Kings). The prophets and historians of Israel were shaped by this book, down to and including the apostle Paul and the Lord Jesus.
The ferocity of Deuteronomy against the false gods is interestingly matched by its tenderness to the vulnerable—the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow (15:11; 24:14). The Levites, who would not have an inheritance of land, are sometimes included in this (26:13). Some might see an inconsistency in this juxtaposition of ferocity and tenderness, but we should rather see deep consistency. Compromise with false gods is the very worst thing you can do to the poor.
The book requires true loyalty and dedication on the part of Israel, predicts that they will fall away from their loyalty, but also predicts that God in His absolute covenant faithfulness, will bring them back again—which is what He did through Christ. The book concludes with a charge to Joshua—be strong and courageous (31:23). Joshua takes this to heart, because the book of Joshua begins with a reminder of that same charge (Josh. 1:6, 7, 9, 18).
One last thing to note about the book. The New Testament counterpart to Deuteronomy is the book of Hebrews. Consider the content of the books, the placement of the books, and the context of both books.
Jesus in Deuteronomy
The apostle Paul taught us that Christ is the end of the law (end, purpose, telos) for everyone who believes. As we saw in our treatment of Leviticus, the unbelieving heart sees everything as law—either intolerable demand or as a sign post toward the shining path of self-improvement. The believing heart sees Christ in, through, and underneath everything. And not Christ the Judge either, but rather Christ the Savior. We are talking about Jesus, who saves His people from their sins.
“For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth. For Moses describeth the righteousness which is of the law, That the man which doeth those things shall live by them. But the righteousness which is of faith speaketh on this wise, Say not in thine heart, Who shall ascend into heaven? (that is, to bring Christ down from above:) Or, Who shall descend into the deep? (that is, to bring up Christ again from the dead.) But what saith it? The word is nigh thee, even in thy mouth, and in thy heart: that is, the word of faith, which we preach; That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. For the scripture saith, Whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed” (Rom. 10:4-11).
Don’t say that the law is up in Heaven. Why? Because Christ has come down to be with us. Don’t say the law is across the sea, far beyond your reach. Why? Because Christ has risen from the dead. What does this mean? It means that Jesus is your law, your life, your morality, the breath in your lungs. Jesus is everything.