God is the Central Character in Deuteronomy
The fifth book of the Bible derives its name from a phrase taken from its seventeenth chapter. The future kings of Israel were “to make a copy of this [God’s] Law” which was to be read all the days of his life so that he may learn to fear God by keeping all the words of the Law. Deuteronomy, then, is a repetition of God’s Law originally delivered on Mount Sinai and recorded in great detail in Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers.
A Series of Addresses Arranged as a Treaty
Any brief, surface reading of Deuteronomy will reveal that the book contains a series of addresses delivered by Moses on the plains of Moab to the Israelites. He led them in a renewal of their covenant with God before they embarked upon the conquest of the Promised Land. With the first generation gone, Moses needed to instruct the current Israelites to avoid the sins of their parents and to commit to the Law so that God’s blessing would pour forth from his hand in the future. And, that’s what he did. In response, Israel reaffirmed her allegiance to God and her national commitment to keep His Law. Therefore, the book, though a collection of individual speeches, has been arranged in the form of an ancient treaty between a king and his people.
We can divide the book into five main sections. They are:
- Preamble (1:1-5) – This preamble sets the stage for the treaty that is to follow. It provides the setting and relationship out of which God’s treaty with Israel is derived.
- Historical Prologue (1:5-4:43) – This section emphasizes God’s providential and miraculous care for his people as well as detailing their spiritual and physical defeat at Kadesh Barnea leading Moses to conclude the section with an appeal to Israel for faithfulness to in her worship of God.
- Stipulations (4:44-26:19) – This significant section of the treaty can be broken down further into two sections. The first is General Covenant Stipulations (4:44-11:32). These stipulations are general and range from the Ten Commandments to the Shema (the greatest commandment) to depict the exclusivity of Israel’s relationship with God. The second section is much more specific. In 12:1-16:19, we find specific regulations regarding proper worship, idolatry, the cleanliness of foods, feasts, the sabbatical year, leadership, sexual morality, personal property, justice, marriage, business, tithes, and offerings.
- Ratification (27:1-30:20) – This section contains the promise of blessing for obedience and the curse for disobedience along with specific instructions for a solemn assembly of covenant renewal once the Israelites have entered and conquered the Promised Land.
- Leadership Succession (31:1-34:12) – This section contains the commissioning of Joshua, the song of Moses, the blessing of the Twelve Tribes, and Moses’s obituary. All of these things tell the story of how Moses prepared the Israelites for life after his death.
It’s Really About God
Though Deuteronomy is a story of Israel’s covenant renewal, it is really as story about God. He’s the central character who stands out as you read the book. Here are a few thoughts about him we can glean from Deuteronomy’s pages:
- God is unique. – God is alone. There are no other gods. There is none like him. “…know therefore today, and lay it to your heart, that the Lord is God in heaven above and on the earth beneath; there is no other. Therefore you shall keep his statutes and his commandments which I command you today…” (4:39-40a).
- God chose Israel. – Israel did not choose God; he chose them. “For you are a holy people to the Lord your God. The Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the Lord loves you and chose you…but it is because the Lord loves you…” (7:6-8).
- God has provided a good land. – The Lord has provided a good land for his people to indwell. “And when the Lord your God brings you into the land that he swore to your fathers…with great and good cities…” (6:10-12).
- God faithfully keeps his promises. – Though Israel sinned and was unfaithful, God remained faithful. “See, I have set the land before you. Go in and take possession of the land that the Lord swore to your fathers…to give to them and to their offspring after them” (1:8).
- God has power to defeat enemies. – God defeated Israel’s enemies, specifically kings Og and Sihon. He will defeat his and his people’s enemies again.
- God is a jealous God and institutes proper worship while warning against idolatry. – The Lord is a jealous God. He desires the worship of his people. He will not stand back and allow them to give it to another. “And if you forget the Lord your God and go after other gods and serve them and worship them, I solemnly warn you today that you shall surely perish, because you would not obey the voice of the Lord your God” (8:19-20).
- God’s Law is comprehensive and effects all of our lives. – God cares about every aspect of our being and our lives. There is nothing in the world that God doesn’t care about, and nothing he doesn’t desire to be under his control. There are no aspects of our lives in which we get a pass. Think on this fact when reading chapters 12-27.
- God exhorts his people to love, serve, fear, and obey him. – The greatest commandment is to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength” (6:5).
- God is permanent. – Leaders come and go. Life changes. Life goes on. However, God remains the same. He is the constant. Moses died, but God remained (33-34).