Deuteronomy is the only Pentateuchal book fully narrated from Moses’s perspective. We hear Moses — his successes as well as his failures and frustrations — in his own voice. We must hear his pastoral and vulnerable voice. Instead of the timid Moses at the Burning Bush, Moses thunders life, blessing, warnings, and even threats in these, his last words to wandering Israelites.
After decades of unaccounted time wandering in the wilderness, Deuteronomy records Moses’ last words. Keep this in mind: Deuteronomy always stands between life and death, wilderness and promise land. Moses preaches repentance as well as instructions for life. From this ledge, we are advised to look back and look forward, to remember God’s faithfulness and to hope in God’s continual love. For first listeners, Deuteronomy is Moses’ last words before entering the promise land. For listeners of Scripture, Deuteronomy is Moses’ eternal words between life and death, for we are always in between life and death. We stand with Moses at the cusp of the Jordan River, of life with God unbridled. This is also how I imagine Israelites in Babylonian exile heard Deuteronomy while they finalized its final form (whether one believes Deuteronomy was finalized right after Moses’ mysterious death or during exile a millennium later, it’s nevertheless fruitful to consider the exilic perspective, which permeates a good portion of scripture). So whether at the threshold of promise land or in the furnace of exile, Deuteronomy speaks.
Moses’ last words are most properly understood as sermons, though long stretches seem to drone on about the most minute laws. Consider, instead, these long stretches as preached law — they are thick with concern for the marginalized as much as fervor for uncompromising worship. Moses does not preach law for law’s sake; he preaches for Israelites’ sake, and that is a important distinction to keep in mind. Torah is law — or better, instructions — for life, and life abundant.
It was senior year at Wheaton College, and I was auditing Daniel I. Block’s Hebrew Exegesis on Deuteronomy. It was a Master’s level class, but I had a good relationship with him, so I snuck in for free lectures. On the first day Dr. Block thundered: “Deuteronomy is the Gospel according to Moses! It is a book, through and through, on God’s grace.” That really stuck with me. It became and still is the lens with which I read Deuteronomy.
Deuteronomy is what Romans is to the New Testament (or Romans is what Deuteronomy is to the Old Testament). It is the heart of Old Testament — dare I say, the whole of Scriptural — theology. It concludes the Pentateuch, is the forgotten book during Deuteronomistic History (Joshua-2 Kings), is the obsession of the Psalter, is the main dialogue partner of Wisdom Literature, and is the fiery engine of prophetic speech. Deuteronomy is also the second most quoted book in the Gospels (Psalms is the first). Paul, Peter, and the other epistles make better sense with Deuteronomy in mind. Deuteronomy is the most detailed account of the heart of Torah. To understand or taste Deuteronomy is to understand or foretaste the rest of Scripture.
Broad Outline of Deuteronomy
- Moses’ First Sermon: Remembering the Grace of Yhwh (1:1-4:43)
- Moses’ Second Sermon: Explaining the Torah–the Grace of Yhwh (4:44-29:1)
- Second Sermon I: The Heart of Torah (4:44-11:32)
- Second Sermon II: The Torah for Abundant Life (12:1-29:1)
- Moses’ Third Sermon: Trusting in the Grace of Yhwh (29:2-30:20)
- Final Things: Joshua, Song, and Death (31:1-34:12)
Post Schedule (20)
- Introduction to Deuteronomy [this post]
- Remembering the Exodus (1)
- Remembering the Wanderings (2-4)
- Remembering the Covenant and Ten Words (5)
- The Shema (6)
- Exclusive Allegiance to Yhwh (7-9)
- The Core of Covenant Relationship (10-11)
- Exclusive Worship of Yhwh (12:1-15:18)
- Celebrating Yhwh (15:19-16:17)
- Division of Power I: Judges and Kings (16:18-17:20)
- Division of Power II: Levites and Prophets (18)
- Violence: Manslaughter, Court, and War (19-20)
- Domestic Cases I (21)
- Domestic Cases II (22)
- Social Cases I (23)
- Social Cases II (24)
- The Weight of Covenant: Celebration, Commitment, and Blessings and Curses (25-28)
- Final Plea: Choose Life! (29-30)
- Blessing the Next Generation (31-33)
- Singing the Torah (32)
- Conclusion to Deuteronomy (34)