Deuteronomy is the fifth and final book the Pentateuch, so well done at making it this far. As you begin reading it, I thought I’d give you a bit of background.
Deuteronomy tells us in the opening line of its author, Moses. These first books are commonly called the Law of Moses and are attributed to him (eg. Matthew 19:7-8, Acts 3:22-23), but there is debate as to what exactly this includes. Due to some of the literary formatting and content such as an account of Moses’ own death, it is thought there is additional help from editors or authors to take the words of Moses and fit them into a greater narrative.
The book begins where the previous left off, and ends there as well, on the plains of Moab (Dt. 34). It is a time for Israel to prepare itself for what will come in Joshua, the delayed conquest of the land that God had promised them, and for Moses to transfer leadership and give his parting words. We find in Deuteronomy another instance of the Ten Commandments and a renewal of the covenant with God.
Moses empfängt die Gesetzestafeln, c. 840
Think about the overall story we’ve seen so far. God has made a world for us to live in and it was good. But we sinned. We disobeyed and turned from God, bringing sin into creation. Having been cast out of the garden, you’d think the people would be alone. Yet God does not forget humanity. He chooses for himself a people and calls Abraham out to be the father of many nations. As we read, it isn’t because he was a perfect man–nor was Isaac or Jacob, or the other so-called patriarchs. God chose us and he remains perfectly faithful as we are too often faithless.
God promises a land to his people, but there is an interlude in Egypt during which the Israelites are slaves. By God’s strong hand he delivers them from bondage, showing his might to Israel’s enemies. He guides them out of oppression toward a promise of a land to call their own. All along the way the people grumble and complain, looking back favorably on Egypt. Working through his servant, Moses, God disciplines his people, but never leaves us. He gives us laws to guide us and sets up camp right in the midst of the people.
He actively guides them to the doorstep of the promised land, a land the scouts see is full of milk and honey, but also of formidable enemies. So even though God has been with them from the time of Abraham and literally camps with them in the tabernacle, their fear overwhelms them and they reject God’s will. So the promised land remains for God’s people a promise, but for a new generation. They wander one year for every day the scouts were in Canaan. For forty years they continue in the wilderness until, at the end of Numbers, their great numbers camp again at the doorstep.
Moses knows he will not enter with them, only Joshua and Caleb have that privilege from the generation that disobeyed. Deuteronomy is the book that further sets the scene for the final transition that began with Abraham and will come to fruition with Joshua. Israel are a people of the promise. God told Abraham to leave the land he knew and follow, and the people have been following with the hope of a land to call their own. And now in Deuteronomy, they are almost there.