The Herald of Jehovah's Kingdom
The Herald of Jehovah's Kingdom
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Bible Study

 
Deuteronomy
 
    The title of the fifth book of the Bible is borrowed from the Greek Septuagint designation "Deuteronomion". It is a compounded term, bringing together deuteros, meaning "second", and nomos, meaning "law". Hence the name of this book literally means "second law" and denotes a repetition of laws previously given. Because of this restating of certain laws, along with a review or repetition of the history of the forty-year sojourn in the wilderness, the rabbis call it Mishneh Hattordh, which translated is "repetition, duplicate, or double of the law". Often they simply call it Mishneh (repetition; duplicate; double). It appears that this meaningful name was adopted by both the rabbis and translators of the Septuagint from verse 18 of chapter 17, where the king is commanded to have a copy or duplicate of the law: "It shall be, when he sitteth upon the throne of his kingdom, that he shall write him a COPY OF THIS LAW [mishneh hattorah, Hebrew; deuteronomion, Greek Septuagint] in a book out of that which is before the priests the Levites." This does not mean the "Talmud".

    The writer of the book, of course, is Moses, for the same reasons as are advanced to establish his writership of the four preceding books, since these first five books of the Bible were originally one volume or roll known as the law. Deuteronomy itself identifies Moses as its writer, at 31:9, 22, 24-26. The last chapter, however, was probably added either by Joshua or by the high priest Eleazar, in whose custody the Pentateuch was entrusted by Moses.

    The events recounted begin on the first day of the eleventh month of the fortieth year after the exodus. (1:3) The book of Joshua seems to take up the narration at about the seventh day of the first month of the forty-first year. (Josh. 1:11; 3:2,3; 4:19) This leaves a time period of two months and one week between the start of events related in Deuteronomy and those narrated in Joshua. However, thirty days of this nine-week period were spent mourning the death of Moses (34:8), which means that practically all the events of Deuteronomy occurred in the eleventh month of the fortieth year, and that by the close of that month the writing of the book was practically completed, with Moses' death coming early in the twelfth month of the fortieth year, the year 1474 B.C. (It is generally believed that the events of Joshua chapter two occurred sometime during the thirty-day mourning period.)

    The setting was the plains of Moab, and there Moses declared unto Israel the covenant of faithfulness. (29:1, 9-13) The book consists chiefly of three discourses delivered by Moses. The first runs from Deuteronomy 1:6 to 4:40. Nearly three-fourths of this discourse is a rehearsal of what befell the Israelites on their forty-year trek to Canaan. But it is not a dry, matter-of-fact history lesson: throughout there constantly bob up observations as to the importance of obedience, and how calamities could have been avoided thereby. Then, with the start of the fourth chapter, he swings into a stirring climax with a fervent exhortation to obedience, declaring, "Now therefore hearken, 0 Israel, unto the statutes and unto the judgments, which I teach you, for to do them, that ye may live, and go in and possess the land which the LORD God of your fathers giveth you."

    By citing concrete illustrations of the dire consequences of rebelling against God and His law, Moses had made a powerful build-up to his climax. He exhorted that this new generation avoid the past mistakes of the old generation that died in the wilderness, that they study God's law, that they teach it to their children, that they seek out the Lord and keep his commandments and understand that Jehovah alone is God of heaven and earth, and, above all, that they keep themselves from the snare of idolatry. Indeed it was a powerful speech!

    The second speech extends from 5:1 to 26:19, and contains a recapitulation, with some modifications and enlargements, of the law given at Sinai. As the first discourse was no bare recounting of history, the second was no mere recapitulating of laws and ordinances. Fervently Moses spoke from the heart and voiced in his law review the vital need for obedience. He repeated the Ten Commandments, particularly explained each and all ordinances belonging to them, and added others not before delivered. He em-phasized that the Israelites should love the stranger within their gates, and hence should refrain from oppressing the stranger class. He confirmed the whole law in a solemn and moving manner, stating the precious promises for those who keep it and the sure judgments against those who willfully break it. In conclusion he set squarely before the people their responsibilities and covenant obligations: "Thou hast avouched Jehovah this day to be thy God, and that thou wouldest walk in his ways, and keep his statutes, and his commandments, and his ordinances, and hearken unto his voice: and Jehovah hath avouched thee this day to be a people for his own possession, . . . and to make thee high above all nations that he hath made, for a praise, and for a name, and for an honor; and that thou mayest be a holy people unto Jehovah thy God, as he hath spoken." —26:17-19, Am. Stan. Version, margin

    In the third speech the elders of Israel are associated with Moses. (27:1-30:20) Its chief import is the curses for disobedience, along with the blessings for obedience. Hence Moses now brought the Israelites there present into a special covenant of faithfulness, in addition to the covenant inaugurated forty years previous at Mount Horeb. (29:1) The six verses of conclusion are matchless in their straightforward simplicity and beauty and power. The last two read: "I call heaven and earth to witness against you this day, that I have set before thee life and death, the blessing and the curse: therefore choose life, that thou mayest live, thou and thy seed; to love Jehovah thy God, to obey his voice, and to cleave unto him; for he is thy life, and the length of thy days; that thou mayest dwell in the land which Jehovah sware unto thy fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give them."—30:19, 20, Am. Stan. Version

    Thereafter the book soon closes. Moses delivers the law to the Levites for regular public reading, through him God gives a charge to Joshua, and then Moses presents his inspired, prophetic song to Israel. (31: 30; 32:1-43) After blessing the twelve tribes, Moses ascends Mount Nebo, views the Promised Land, and dies.

    This last month of Moses' life spent with the Israelites on the plains of Moab compares somewhat with modern Theocratic assemblies. It was a time of pause and refreshment and of taking stock before a great undertaking. Meditation and study and exhortation were very much in order. The Israelites were about to enter the Promised Land. Many there present had not witnessed the different events in the wilderness sojourn, the older generation, with the exception of a few, having been destroyed for their many rebellions, particularly their refusal to enter the Promised Land some thirty-nine years before. The discourses by Moses threw into strong relief the disastrous consequences of rebellion against the Lord, denned clearly the laws and ordinances of God, and set forth stark naked the curses that would surely and swiftly follow disobedience. All this impressed their hearts with a deep sense of their obligations as God's covenant and name people. As the particular angle from which Moses presented the facts shows, they were to prepare this new generation of Israelites for their entry and inheritance of the Promised Land.

    Deuteronomy is oft-quoted in other books of the Bible, and particularly in the Greek Scriptures. Outstanding in this regard is the prophecy pointing forward to Christ Jesus, whom Moses typed. It is recorded at Deuteronomy 18:15-19, and the apostle Peter under inspiration caught up these ancient words and showed their full meaning and application. The fulfillment of the many other prophecies and types and shadows of this book abundantly testifies to its authenticity.