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Deuteronomy

Author: Unknown

Date Written: c. 1450 BC - 517 BC

 

Deuteronomy is the heartbeat of the Old Testament.  It had tremendous influence on the writings of the prophets and on the New Testament.  The word "deuteronomy" means "second law," which comes from a phrase in Deut 17:18.  Indeed, Deuteronomy is a repetition and summation of the Law presented in the previous books of the Pentateuch.

 

The setting is the plains of Moab, east of the Jordan River, on the eve of Israel's entry into the promised land.  Moses is now an old man and in fact he will die before the entry takes place (34), so he gives his last words of exhortation to the people.       Deuteronomy contains six sub-headings, which shape the movement of the book (1:1; 4:44; 6:1; 12:1; 29:1; 33:1).

 

At first, Moses retells the story of the people of Israel and outlines their physical and spiritual journey from Egypt to the promised land (1-4).  Then in ch. 5 he repeats the Ten Commandments which were originally presented in Exod 20.  The biggest section of the book is where Moses presents the Law that will shape the community as a commentary on the Ten Commandments (6-28).  The first part of the Law section (6-11) is an explanation and expansion of the first few of the Ten Commandments which are about relating to God.  The second part (12-28) contains laws about relating to one another, which expand on the Commandments dealing with human relations.  After giving the Law, Moses renews the covenant with the people (29) and establishes new leaders.  Moses commissions Joshua to be his successor (31).  At the end of Deuteronomy, we find the Song of Moses (32), Moses' last blessing (33), and the account of his death (34).

 

The Law of Moses is the covenant terms of God's relationship with his people.  While obedience leads to life, blessing, fertility and happiness in the land, breaking the commandments leads to death, curses, barrenness and exile.  In order to encourage their hearts to obey the Lord, Moses instructs the people that when they enter the promised land, half the people should go up on Mt. Gerazim, while the other half goes up on Mt. Ebal.  This place will be called the Valley of Decision, where they should renew the covenant by reciting the blessings and curses of the Law.  The half on Mt. Ebal will recite the curses, while the half on Mt. Gerazim recites the blessings.  The people actually perform this ceremony in Joshua 8.

 

Several scholars have noted that Deuteronomy's form is very similar to other Near Eastern covenant and treaty documents.  In that sense, Deuteronomy is essentially a covenant document.  God inaugurates a covenant relationship with his people out of his infinite love.  Deuteronomy establishes the fact of God's love for his people and outlines how they can respond to him.  The Law is not just a legal contract requiring obedience.  It is an invitation to know God and to love him.

 

Though the Law of Moses is fulfilled by the Law of the Gospel (CCC 1968), the Ten Commandments are still obligatory for us (CCC 2072).  In Deuteronomy, God invites us to obey him and so that we may gain the life which he offers us in Christ.

 

By Mark Giszczak

 

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