The book of Deuteronomy (Deuteronomy 1)

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Moses is attested to have written most of this book (see Deuteronomy 1:1, 5, 31:24-25), as well as most of the Penteteuch. Numerous New Testament references attribute passages of Deuteronomy to him (see e.g. Matthew 19:7-8, Mark 10:3-5, Acts 3:22-23, 7:37-38, Romans 10:19). An unknown author must have filled in the narrative framework surrounding the Mosaic material (the preamble in Deuteronomy 1-5 and the conclusion in chapter 34), as well as other, smaller passages.

According to 1:5, Moses presented his speeches as the Israelites camped in Moab, at the point where the Jordan River flows into the Dead Sea, after which he wrote them down (31:24-25). This suggests that the speeches and events recorded in Deuteronomy took place just prior to the conquest – traditionally dated by many conservative evangelical scholars to approximately 1440-1400 B.C.

The original audience for Deuteronomy was the generation of Israelites who would soon enter Canaan. Since this book summarized the law for their future generations as well, those who followed after were also to understand and obey (see e.g. 4:9, 40). Numerous New Testament references to Moses and Deuteronomy illustrate this book’s importance.

After 40 years of desert wandering the Israelites were poised to enter Canaan, the promised land. God had proved His faithfulness again and again, but as soon as they crossed the Jordan River they would have numerous battles to fight – physical clashes with the Canaanites and spiritual frays in order for them to remain God’s holy people. At this key time in history God gave Moses important truths to share as the former shepherd prepared to turn over his leadership to Joshua.

God and Moses knew the many challenges the Israelites would face in their new land, and this new generation needed a refresher course concerning the covenant God had made with them through their forebears. All but two members of the older generation (the faithful spies, Joshua and Caleb) that had camped by Mount Sinai when God had given Moses the law had died in the wilderness.

As you read, visualize the Israelites gathered on Canaan’s border, eager to hear what their elderly, faithful leader had to say. Most of them had been born or had reached adulthood in the desert. Moses knew he could not enter Canaan because of his earlier disobedience (Numbers 20:12), but filled with God’s Spirit he still delivered three lengthy speeches, which together restated God’s covenant requirements with Israel and the need for future generations to remember and live according to them. Make an attempt to enter vicariously into the anticipation of that gathered throng who had waited so long for the events about to take place. These were truly momentous speeches at a vital time in Israel’s history.

Did you know that it is unusual in the Old Testament for events to be reported out of chronological order – or for a leader to be credited with doing something actually accomplished by someone else (Deuteronomy 10:1-11)? Did you know that the reason for prohibitions against eating “unclean” animals was basically spiritual, though there may have been physiological and health considerations as well (14:1-21)? Did you know that contempt of court – whether by a judge who for whatever reason did not want to exact the stipulated punishment or by a regular citizen – was a capital offense (17:8-13)?

Did you know that Israelite military officers spelled out to potential inductees ways to be excused from service? If a man did not fit any of the specific categories of exemption, the last – “Is any man afraid or fainthearted?” – would relieve him of duty if he so desired (20:1-20). Did you know that Mosaic Law forbade a person who found a bird’s nest with the mother and her brood in it from harming the mother bird? Semite people in general viewed with extreme disfavour anyone who wilfully disturbed a bird in the nest (22:6)? Did you know that “cleanliness next to godliness” in not an Old Testament quote, as some think, but the concept does have a Biblical basis (23:9-14)?


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