Introduction to the Book of Deuteronomy

“Introduction to the Book of Deuteronomy,” Old Testament Seminary Teacher Manual (2014)


Why study this book?

The book of Deuteronomy contains Moses’s final words to the children of Israel before they entered the land of Canaan with Joshua as their leader. The book’s title means “second law” or “repetition of the law” (see Bible Dictionary, “Deuteronomy”), for in these final sermons, Moses repeated to the Israelites many of the laws and commandments that were part of their covenant with the Lord. Moses also exhorted the Israelites to remember and keep their covenant as he taught them the consequences of either obeying or disobeying the Lord’s laws and commandments. As students study Deuteronomy, they will learn the importance of looking to past spiritual experiences and remembering to keep the laws, covenants, and commandments of the Lord so that they can have the same promises of prosperity and protection as ancient Israel.

Who wrote this book?

Moses is the author of Deuteronomy. Throughout the book we see Moses fulfilling his divinely appointed role as “the great law-giver of Israel” (D&C 138:41). Moses was also a prototype of the Messiah, Jesus Christ (see Deuteronomy 18:15–19). The final chapter of Deuteronomy recounts Moses’s death; however, other scriptures clarify that Moses did not die but was translated. Moses “came to the Mount of Transfiguration and bestowed keys of the priesthood upon Peter, James, and John (Matt. 17:3–4; Mark 9:4–9; Luke 9:30; D&C 63:21; HC 3:387). From this event, which occurred before the Resurrection of Jesus, we understand that Moses was a translated being and had not died as reported in Deut. 34 (Alma 45:19)” (Bible Dictionary, “Moses”). In this dispensation, Moses also appeared as a resurrected being (followed by Elias and then Elijah) in the Kirtland Temple and conferred priesthood keys upon Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery (see D&C 110:11–16). The explanation of Moses’s supposed death and the ensuing eulogy (see Deuteronomy 34:10) were added after Moses was translated.

When and where was it written?

Moses delivered the sermons recorded in Deuteronomy about 40 years after the Lord brought the children of Israel out of Egypt. When Moses delivered these sermons, he and the children of Israel were encamped on the east side of the Jordan River, just outside the promised land (see Deuteronomy 1:1–5). There are varying opinions on when Deuteronomy and the other books of Moses were compiled.

What are some distinctive features of this book?

The book of Deuteronomy contains Moses’s three great final sermons to the children of Israel. “The first discourse is found in Deut. 1–4 and is introductory. The second discourse (Deut. 5–26) consists of two parts: (1) 5–11, the Ten Commandments and a practical exposition of them, (2) 12–26, a code of laws, which forms the nucleus of the whole book. … The third discourse (Deut. 27–30) contains a solemn renewal of the covenant [between God and Israel] and an announcement of the blessings of obedience and the curses upon disobedience” (Bible Dictionary, “Deuteronomy”). These sermons contain Moses’s heartfelt pleas for the Israelites to remember the Lord and live His laws in the promised land. The instructions recorded in Deuteronomy were specifically directed to a new generation whose parents had died in the wilderness following their rebellion (see Numbers 14:26–33; 26:63–65).

One of the most notable features of the book of Deuteronomy is the frequency with which it is quoted in other scripture. Of the five books of Moses, Deuteronomy is the one most often quoted by the Old Testament prophets. It is also quoted or alluded to almost 100 times in the New Testament. Jesus used verses from Deuteronomy to dismiss the temptations of Satan (see Deuteronomy 6:13, 16; 8:3; Matthew 4:1–11) and to explain which commandment was greatest in the law (see Deuteronomy 6:5; Matthew 22:36–38).

Outline

Deuteronomy 1–4 Moses recounts significant events from the Israelites’ previous 40 years, including the covenant the Lord made with them at Horeb, or Mount Sinai.

Deuteronomy 5–11 Moses exhorts the Israelites to teach their children to love the Lord, keep the commandments, and marry in the covenant. He reminds them that they are to be a holy and chosen people of the Lord. Moses also tells the Israelites of the lessons they need to remember from their wanderings in the wilderness and warns them of what will happen if they forget. He recounts times when the Israelites rebelled and how he mediated between them and the Lord. He teaches the Israelites that if they love and serve the Lord, they will be blessed in the promised land; if they do not, they will be cursed.

Deuteronomy 12–17 Moses instructs the people to destroy the false gods of the Canaanites and to remain a separate people, free from worldly practices and influences. He reminds the Israelites of the Lord’s commandments. He warns Israel against having kings but then provides instructions for them in case they decide to have a king despite his counsel.

Deuteronomy 18 Moses instructs Israel to avoid the superstitions and occult practices of other nations. He prophesies of Jesus Christ and tells the Israelites how they can identify a true prophet.

Deuteronomy 19–28 Moses gives specific laws and commandments regarding judicial actions and warfare, as well as instructions for daily life. He encourages the Israelites to remember their debt to the Lord by offering the firstfruits of the land of Canaan, paying tithing, and keeping their covenants.

Deuteronomy 29–30 Israel makes a covenant with the Lord. Moses warns that those who disobey the Lord will be cursed and prophesies that those who obey the Lord will be blessed temporally and spiritually.

Deuteronomy 31–34 Moses tells Joshua and the Israelites to be strong and have courage. He teaches the Israelites a song that will help Israel remember the Lord and the commandments. He blesses each of the tribes of Israel and sees all of the land that Israel will inherit.