Summary of The Book of Deuteronomy
The word "Deuteronomy" is taken from the Greek word for "the second law" or "the law repeated." The book is written in the form of discourses which Moses delivered to the people in the plains of Moab on the eve of their entrance into the promised land of Canaan. These discourses are addressed to every member of the congregation of Israel and not just to a small segment, such as the Levites. The discourses are not a second law in the sense of being a different law; neither are they to be taken merely as a recapitulation of those things recorded in Exodus, Leviticus, and Deuteronomy. They are rather a forceful presentation of the most essential aspects of God's revelation with an emphasis on the spiritual principle of the law and its fulfillment, as well as a development and application of the law to circumstances which would face the Israelites in their new life in Canaan. These discourses were spoken in the eleventh month of the last year of Israel's wanderings, the fortieth year after leaving Egypt.
In the first speech (1:1-4:43), Moses strives briefly, but earnestly, to warn the people against the sins which had kept their fathers from entering the promised land. In order to stress the necessity of obedience, he recapitulates the chief events of the last forty years in the wilderness, emphasizing the role which disobedience and lack of trust had played in the afflictions of the Israelites.
The second discourse (4:44-26:19) enters more fully into the precepts of the Law. It may be viewed as the body of the whole address, the former being an introduction. This section is hortatory and legal, consisting of a review of Israel's moral and civil statutes, testimonies and judgments. This discourse is broken into two main sections : 1) chs. 5-11, an exposition of the Ten Commandments and 2) chs. 12-26, a group of special statutes on various matters, containing a strong ethical and religious emphasis.
The third discourse (27:1-31:30) deals primarily with the blessings of obedience and the curses of disobedience. Moses now speaks in conjunction with the elders of the people and with the priests and the Levites, whose office it would be to carry out the ceremony which Moses describes in this discourse. The place selected for the ceremony was the spot in the center of the land where the first altar to God had been erected. As soon as they passed over the Jordan, the people were commanded to set up great stones on Mt. Ebal. These were to be covered with plaster and inscribed with the law of God. They were also to build an altar, which seems to have been distinct from the stones, although it is difficult to be certain about this. Then the twelve tribes were to be divided between the two hills. Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Joseph and Benjamin were to station themselves on Mt. Gerizim to recite the blessings which God promised them if they would remain faithful to him. Across on Mt. Ebal, Reuben, Gad, Asher, Zebulun and Naphtali were to speak the curses with which the Lord had threatened disobedience.
After completing these discourses, Moses encouraged the people to follow their new leader, Joshua, and to go across and take the land which had been promised to Abraham. He wrote down the Law in a book and turned it over to the priests, who were to keep it as a perpetual reminder for all the people (31:9-13). It was to be read every seventh year, when the people assembled for the feast of Tabernacles.
At the command of the Lord, Moses and Joshua appeared before God at the tent of meeting. There God told them of the future infidelity of Israel and instructed Moses to leave the people a song which they were to learn and which was to serve as a witness for God against them. This song of Moses is recorded in ch. 32; it recounts the blessings which God has bestowed on his people and the corrupt manner in which they have responded to his beneficence. Ch. 33 contains Moses' blessing on the people and ch. 34 records the brief account of the death of this great leader of Israel.