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As we come to the Book of Deuteronomy, I should remind you that this is the last book of the Pentateuch. The first five books in the Bible were written by Moses and they are called the Pentateuch. These books are Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy.
The Greek word deutero means “two” or “second,” and nomion is “law.” So the title Deuteronomy means “the second law.” We are not to infer that this is merely a repetition of the Law as it was given to Moses on Mount Sinai. This is more than a recapitulation. It is another illustration of the law of recurrence, as we have already seen in Scripture. The Spirit of God has a way of saying something in an outline form, then coming back and putting an emphasis upon a particular portion of it.
There are four Hebrew titles of Deuteronomy: (1) Debarim, meaning “The Words” or “These be the Words,” is derived from the opening expression, “These are the words which Moses spake.” (2) The Kith, or the Fifth of the Law. (3) The Book of Reproofs. (4) The Iteration of the Law.
The theme of Deuteronomy may surprise you. The great theme is Love and Obey. You may not have realized that the love of God was mentioned that far back in the Bible, but the word love occurs twenty–two times. The Lord Jesus was not attempting to give something that was brand new when He said, “If you love me, keep my commandments.” Deuteronomy teaches that obedience is man’s response to God’s love. This is not the gospel, but the great principle of it is here. And let’s understand one thing: the Law is good. Although I emphasize and overemphasize the fact that God cannot save us by Law, that does not imply that the Law is not good. Of course the Law is good. Do you know where the trouble lies? The trouble is with you and me. Therefore God must save us only by His grace.
Moses wrote Deuteronomy. Moses was a man who knew God; he talked with God face to face. The Psalmist says, “He made known his ways unto Moses, his acts unto the children of Israel” (Ps. 103:7). The children of Israel saw the acts of God, but did not know Him. Moses knew His ways. Deuteronomy is the result of this intimate knowledge, plus the experience of forty years in the wilderness.
The section dealing with the death of Moses (Deut. 34:5–12) was probably written by Joshua and belongs to the Book of Joshua. When the Book of Joshua was written, it was placed on the scroll of the Pentateuch, making a Hexateuch.
The authorship of Deuteronomy has been challenged by the critics. The original criticism was that Moses could not have written it because no writing existed in Moses’ day. That theory has been soundly refuted, as we now know that writing existed long before Moses’ time. Also the critics stated that the purpose of the book was to glorify the priesthood at Jerusalem, yet neither the priesthood nor Jerusalem is even mentioned in the Book of Deuteronomy. It is amazing to see that this Graf–Wellhausen hypothesis, as it is known, which came out of the German universities years ago, is still being taught in many of our seminaries in the United States.
The Book of Deuteronomy was given to the new generation that was unfamiliar with the experiences at Mount Sinai. The new generation had arrived on the east bank of the Jordan River, and it was one month before they would enter the Promised Land. The adults of the generation which had left Egypt were dead, and their bones were bleaching beneath the desert skies because of their unbelief and disobedience. They had broken God’s Law—those were sins of commission. They had failed to believe God—those were sins of omission. You see, unbelief is sin. The Law was weak through the flesh. It was the flesh that was wrong, as wrong as it is today. This is the reason God has an altogether different basis on which He saves us.
The new generation, now grown to adulthood, needed to have the Law interpreted for them in the light of thirty–eight years’ experience in the wilderness. New problems had arisen which were not covered by the Law specifically. Also God tells His people that they are to teach the Law constantly to their children. By the way, I wonder if this isn’t the great neglect in the modern home. We talk about the failure of the school and the failure of the church today, and I agree that both have miserably failed in teaching boys and girls, but the real problem is in the home where instruction should have originated.
Moses gives to this new generation his final instructions from the Lord before he relinquishes his leadership of the nation through death. He reviews the desert experiences, he reemphasizes certain features of the Law, and he reveals their future course in the light of the Palestinian covenant that God had made with him relative to the Land of Promise. We will see in this book that the Mosaic Law was not only given to a people, it was given to a land also.
Finally, Moses teaches them a new song; he blesses the twelve tribes; and then he prepares to die. A requiem to Moses concludes the Book of Deuteronomy.
One Hebrew division of Deuteronomy is very good and follows the generally accepted pattern:
Sixth Oration—32 (Song of Moses)
(McGee, J. Vernon. Thru the Bible Commentary, Vol. 9: Deuteronomy. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1991.)