Author: Moses, according to tradition.
Date: Approximately 1400 BC
Theme: Obedience brings blessing, disobedience brings cursing
Key Words: Covenant
Author: Deuteronomy identifies Moses as the book's author: "These are the words that Moses spoke to all Israel" (1:1). "And Moses wrote this law, and gave it to the priests" (31:9), could also be an indication that he wrote the entire book. Moses' name appears around forty times in this text, which closely reflects the personality of that great figure. Likewise, the continual use of the first person throughout the book, sustains Moses' authorship.
Jewish as well as Samaritan tradition unanimously identifies Moses as the author of Deuteronomy. Christ also expressly did so, as did Peter and Stephen (Matt. 19:7,8; Mark 10:3,4; Acts 3:22; 7:37).
The final chapter, which contains the story of Moses' death, was probably written by his closest friend, Joshua.
Date: Moses and the Israelites began the exodus from Egypt around the year 1440 BC. They arrived at the fields of Moab, where Deuteronomy was probably written, around the year 1400 BC, with its contents being communicated to the people "in the 11th month, on the 1st day of the month" of the 40th year of their wandering in the desert (1:3). It was right before the death of Moses and the Israelites' entrance into Canaan under Joshua's leadership. Therefore, the book of Deuteronomy covers a period of less than two months, which includes the 30 days of mourning for the death of Moses.
Literary Forms: (HBH) There is widespread consensus that Deuteronomy is modeled after well-known ancient Near Eastern (specifically Hittite and/or Assyrian) treaty forms. Though the ancient treaty tradition provides the general structure and outline of the book, Deuteronomy adds exhortations, poetry, and other elaborations appropriate to its larger character as a farewell sermon of Moses.
Study of sovereign-vassal treaties made by the great king of the Hittites with conquered or dependent rulers reveal certain common components, which Deuteronomy embodies in the same general order. Following Peter Craigie (The Book of Deuteronomy, 24, 67-68), the following standard elements of Hittite covenant texts and their corresponding place in Deuteronomy may be set forth.
The elements of the ancient Near Eastern treaties can be seen not only in the larger structure of Deuteronomy but also in the organization of smaller units of the book. For example, Deuteronomy 5 contains (1) an introduction of the Great King ("I am the LORD your GOD", 5:6); (2) an historical prologue ("who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery", 5:6); (3) covenant stipulations (5:7-21); (4) blessings and curses ("punishing the children...of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments", 5:9-10); and (5) the recording of the covenant (5:22).
Background: Moses was 120 years old at this time and the Promised Land was in sight. He had led the Israelites out of the Egyptian captivity and through the desert, where they received the Law of GOD. Because of Israel's refusal to enter the land of Canaan, which GOD had promised them, they wandered aimlessly in the desert for 38 years. Now they were camped at the eastern boundary of Canaan in the hills of Moab, opposite Jericho and the Jordan Plain. While the Israelites prepared to enter the Promised Land, they faced a crucial moment in their history; new dangers, new temptations and a new leadership. Moses gathered the people to remind them of the LORD's faithfulness to his promises and called them to be faithful and obedient to GOD, while they took possession of the Promised Land.
Content: Deuteronomy contains a series of farewell messages addressed by Moses to the Israelites, while he prepared to die and they readied themselves to enter the Promised Land. Although GOD had prohibited him from entering Canaan, Moses experienced a feeling of anxiety in the days leading up to that event. That which the LORD had promised to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob centuries before, was about to become a reality. Deuteronomy represented the proclamation of a second chance for Israel, which for lack of faith and disloyalty had hindered the conquest of Canaan previously. Most of the people who found themselves alongside Moses facing the Promised Land hadn't participated in the events of Sinai; they had been born and raised in the desert. Thus Moses exhorts them 35 times to "go and possess" the land. Thirty-four times he reminds them that this is the land which GOD offers them.
While this generation of Israelites prepares to enter the Promised Land, Moses reminds them of GOD's faithfulness throughout history and the special covenant that unites them with Him. Moses tells them that the Israelites' greatest temptation in the Promised Land will be to forget GOD and hand themselves over to the worship of Canaanite idols. Thus his concern for maintaining relations established by the covenant. In order to prepare the people for life in the new land, Moses expounds on the commandments and statutes given by GOD in his covenant. Obedience to GOD equips them for life, blessings, health and prosperity, just as disobedience brings death, cursing, illness and poverty. The covenant shows the sons of GOD the way to live in companionship with Him and with others. So powerful is Deuteronomy's message, that it's cited more than 80 times in the New Testament.
Theological Contribution: (IBD) The New Testament contains more than 80 quotations from Deuteronomy, so it must be rated as one of the foundational books of the Bible. Jesus Himself often quoted from Deuteronomy. During His temptation, He answered Satan with four quotations from Scripture. Three of these came from this key Old Testament book (Matt. 4:4, Luke 4:4 - Deut. 8:3; Matt. 4:7, Luke 4:12 - Deut. 6:16; Matt. 4:10, Luke 4:8 - Deut 6:13).
When Jesus was asked to name the most important commandment in the Law, He responded with the familiar call from Deuteronomy: "You shall love the LORD your GOD with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your might" (Matt. 22:37; Deut. 6:5; Mark 12:30; Luke 10:27). He then added some other important words from Leviticus to show that He was carrying the law one step further: "The second [commandment] is like it: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself'" (Matt. 22:39; Lev. 19:18; Mark 12:31; Luke 10:27).
Another great truth underscored by the Book of Deuteronomy is that GOD is faithful to His Covenant People, those whom He has called to carry out His purpose of redemption in the world. The Hebrews were chosen as GOD's instruments not because they were a worthy, powerful people, but because He loved them and desired to bless the rest of the world through their influence (7:6,11). This is still GOD's purpose as He continues to call people to follow Him and commit themselves to His purpose in their lives.
Special Considerations: (IBD) Some people look upon the laws of GOD in the Old Testament as burdensome and restrictive. The Book of Deuteronomy, however, teaches that GOD's laws are given for our own good to help us stay close to Him in our attitudes and behavior. Thus, Moses called on the people to keep GOD's statutes, "which I command you today for your good" (10:13). The intention of GOD's law is positive; passages in the New Testament that seem to condemn the law must be interpreted in this light. It is the misuse of the law - trusting it rather than GOD's mercy as the basis of our salvation - that we should avoid. GOD's law is actually fulfilled in the person of our LORD and Savior Jesus Christ (Matt. 5:17,20).
Personal Application: Deuteronomy is characterized by a strong sense of urgency. The challenge seems decisive, even for the contemporary reader: "I have placed before you life and death, the blessing and the curse; choose, then, life, so that you and your descendants may live". The decision is our.
Deuteronomy teaches that the relationship between GOD and His people goes beyond the Law. The indispensable conditions for maintaining our relationship with GOD, according to the covenant, are obedience and loyalty. Our love, affection and devotion for the LORD should be the true basis for our actions. Loyalty to GOD constitutes the essence of true piety and holiness. Success, victory, prosperity and happiness, all of it depends on our obedience to the Father's will. The book calls for obedience to GOD on the basis of two motivations; love and fear. "What does Jehovah your GOD ask of you, but to fear Jehovah your GOD, to walk in all his ways, and to love him, and serve Jehovah your GOD with all your heart and all your soul; to keep Jehovah's commandments and his statutes...?" (10:12,13).
Christ Revealed: Moses was the first to prophecy the coming of the Messiah, a prophet like Moses himself (18:15). Notably, Moses is the only figure with whom Christ compares himself. "For if you believe in Moses, you will believe in me, because he wrote of me. But if you don't believe his writings, how will you believe my words?" (John 5:46,47). Jesus sometimes cited Deuteronomy. When he was asked to name the most important commandment, he responded, citing the book of Deuteronomy exclusively (8:3; 6:16; 6:13; 10:20). It was very significant that Christ, who was perfectly obedient to the Father, even in the presence of death used this book dedicated to obedience to GOD, to demonstrate his submission to the will of the Father.
The Holy Spirit in Action: GOD's redemptive activity is the theme that recurs throughout the Bible. The book of Deuteronomy reminds the people that the Spirit of GOD has been with his people from the times of the liberation from Egyptian captivity until the present, and that he will continue guiding and protecting them if they obey the stipulations of the covenant.
II Peter 1:2 alludes to Moses as one of the "holy men of GOD" who "spoke being inspired by the Holy Spirit". As GOD's messenger, Moses gave testimony of the presence of the Holy Spirit, while he prophesied before the people. Several of his most important prophecies announced the coming of the Messiah (18:15), the scattering of Israel (30:1), its repentance (30:2) and restoration (30:5), its future establishment as a nation (30:5,6), as well as the prosperity that awaited it (30:9).
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