4 Min Read

The book of Deuteronomy is significant in itself, but also because of the number of times it is quoted in the New Testament. The proclamation of Jesus and His disciples drew directly from it. Jesus quoted it in His temptations (Matt. 4:4, 7, 10) and reaffirmed its emphasis on an all-embracing love to God (Matt. 22:37–38). The Apostolic preaching in Acts draws heavily upon it, especially in pointing to the fulfilment of the word concerning the prophetic office in the person of Jesus (Deut. 18:15; Acts 3:22). At least seven New Testament epistles contain quotations from Deuteronomy, perhaps the most significant of these being in Galatians 3:10–14. Here, Paul writes that Christ has redeemed us from the curse of which Deuteronomy speaks (see Deut. 21:23) by becoming a curse for us (Gal. 3:13).

The name of this book in English, Deuteronomy, has come via Latin and Greek and means “the second law,” assuming that the reference in Deuteronomy 17:18 means exactly that. However, what that passage refers to is the king having a copy of the law for himself. The content of the book shows that it is not a second law but a renewal of the covenant made at Mount Sinai (called “Horeb” throughout Deuteronomy, except in Deut. 33:2). It is linked expressly with the gracious promises God gave to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (see, for example, Deut. 6:10–11; 7:7–9). It also marks the completion of the Pentateuch, with the emphasis on the partial fulfilment of the patriarchal promises just prior to Israel’s entry to the land that God had sworn to give them.

There are three special matters that readers should know about the book of Deuteronomy and its teaching.

1. Deuteronomy is a covenantal document.

As a covenantal document, Deuteronomy is concerned with the bond between God and His people. God acted in His gracious condescension, entered into a special relationship with them. He loved His people and redeemed them by His outstretched hand of power (see especially Deut. 7:7–9; 9:5–6; 14:2). At Sinai, He entered into this formal relationship with them. He drew near them and promised, “I will be your God, and you shall be My people.” Hence, the covenant was a bond between God and man, sovereignly imposed by God in His grace, whereby He and His people gave expression to their relationship in formal terms. His covenantal people had to respond in obedience to all that this redeemer God had done for them. No part of their lives was exempt from His ethical demands. The structure and content of Deuteronomy are tied together in a manner very similar to known treaties in secular life in the second millennium BC.

2. Deuteronomy is an exposition of the Decalogue, the Ten Commandments.

No fuller exposition of the Ten Commandments is found in any other book of the Bible than Deuteronomy. There is a contrast between the Decalogue set out in chapter 5 and the exposition in chapters 6–26. The contrast is not between divine and human laws. Rather, it is between the basic core of the covenant, the Decalogue, and the exposition, which sets out its various applications. It consists of preaching that was intended to impress God’s claims on the consciences of listeners. Moses set before the people of Israel life and death, blessing and cursing, and he challenged them, saying, “Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live, loving the Lord your God, obeying his voice and holding fast to him” (Deut. 30:19–20).

But there is something more to be said about the exposition of the Decalogue. In the book of the covenant in Exodus 21–23, several of the commandments are covered, but not in the order in which they appear in Exodus 20. However, in Deuteronomy the commandments are dealt with in the same order as in Deuteronomy 5. The prescriptive form of them comes in chapter 5, while the descriptive form occupies chapters 6–26. The exposition elaborates the essential thrust of the commandments, but it also shows the trajectory for each of them. This means that many of the commandments have wider implications than would appear from the first reading of them. For example, the fifth commandment deals not just with the parent/child relationship, but with all authority structures within Israel.

3. The book of Deuteronomy emphasizes the concept of the land.

Of the books of the Pentateuch, the first three books (Genesis, Exodus, and Leviticus) are concerned more with the aspect of relationship between God and His people, while Numbers and Deuteronomy concentrate on the aspect of land. Other patriarchal promises are echoed in Deuteronomy, such as the promise of a large family (Deut. 1:10; 10:22; 28:62), yet “the land” dominates. It was to be God’s gift, which He had sworn to give them long before they actually took possession of it. His people were to have “rest” in the land (Deut. 3:20; 12:9–10; 25:19) and enjoyment of the blessings He was to provide. This concept of rest is taken up in Psalm 95 and developed further in Hebrews 3:7–4:13. Just as rest was ahead of Israel in Canaan, so rest awaits Christian believers. It is identical with “the heavenly country” sought by them, the enduring city that is to come (Heb. 11:16; 13:14). It is not at all surprising that Christian hymnology has picked up the themes of crossing the Jordan into the promised land as symbolic of death and entry into God’s heavenly rest.

Deuteronomy concludes the Pentateuch, by which time the promises to the patriarchs had come to partial fulfillment. With entry into Canaan, the theme of the land came to realization, while other promises, such as those relating to kingship and prophecy, were fulfilled after occupation of the good land, the land flowing with milk and honey (Deut. 31:20).

This article is part of the Every Book of the Bible: 3 Things to Know collection.