We got the name Deuteronomy through a happy misnomer. The name is taken from the Greek version of the text below (17:18), where the king was to write out a “second” copy of the law for himself. But at the same time, the occasion of the book of Deuteronomy was a covenant renewal. A covenant had been made with God at Horeb (Sinai), but this book was a distinct covenant made in Moab many years later (Dt. 29:1). So in a real sense, it is a second giving of the law to Israel. Note that the book of Deuteronomy is quoted over eighty time in the New Testament. Christian thinking is impossible apart from it.
“And it shall be, when he sitteth upon the throne of his kingdom, that he shall write him a copy of this law in a book out of that which is before the priests the Levites.” (Dt. 17:18).
Infidels have fun in their discussions about the date and authorship of books like this. But for us it must be sufficient that the Lord Jesus says Moses wrote it (Matt 19:8; Luke 24:27,44). The apostle Paul says the same thing (1 Cor. 9:9). The book of Deuteronomy is a collection of three sermons by Moses, assembled together as a covenant document.
The three sermons are structured this way: in his first address (1:1-4:43), Moses reviews the great historical deliverances of Israel by God. In his second address (4:44-28:68), his long sermon, Moses expounds, explains, and applies the ten commandments. In his third address (29:1-30:20), Moses presses the requirements of the covenant upon the people, urging them to accept its terms. The last section of the book (31:1-34:12), shows us the transition to Joshua, a ceremony of covenant renewal, and the death of Moses.
Detailed structuring of a book like this will be watertight, and we ought not to assume that other legitimate ways of ordering the book are impossible. But at the same time, we should look for the order which Moses gave to the book—we assume that he was not rambling.
We know that Moses was a faithful steward, a faithful servant in all God’s house (Heb. 3:4). As such, he speaks this word to the people (1:1-5). And we do not have covenant renewal without a need for that renewal (1:6-4:43).
The second message revolves around the ten commandments, which were a summary of the covenant.Moses presents the law to the people first in summary form (4:44-5:33). He then goes on to apply each of the laws in such a way as to show that their entire lives were to be lived out under its authority.
There are no other gods: here we have much application of the first commandment (Dt. 6-11). God is God alone, and there is no other. The biblical message is not that there are no other gods in our faith community; it is that there are no other gods.
We are to avoid graven images in worship: this section concerns mediation and how God is not to be worshipped (Dt. 12-13). It is not enough to avoid bowing down to images of false gods; believers are not to worship any image of the true God either.
As Christians, we are called to hallowing the name of God: the third commandment is addressed in this section (Dt. 14:1-21a).
Then we come to the need for sabbath living: beginning with the law about boiling a kid in its mother’s milk, we have instruction on what we might call the sabbath mind (Dt. 14:21b-16:17). The sabbath mind, when understood biblically, is not censorious or unkind, but rather liberal, generous, and full of rest.
This last command concerning the sabbath finishes instruction on our duties to God directly, as found in the first table of the law. This first table is summed up in the greatest commandment, which is to love God with all our hearts, minds, and strength. The second table addresses our duties to our neighbor, and is summed up by the command to love our neighbors as ourselves.
And in the task of loving our neighbors, we start at home. This begins with a love of parental authority. We are called to honor authority. But keep in mind that the fifth commandment concerns all authority in principle, not just that of parents (Dt. 16:18-18:22).
Murder is prohibited. Violence and warfare are addressed in the next section (Dt. 19:1-22:8).
Adultery is treason against the home. The instructions on sexual and symbolic purity are found here (Dt. 22:9-23:14).
Larceny is out. The prohibition of theft is expounded here (Dt. 23:15-24:7).
Because truth is the language of God, false witness is prohibited (Dt. 24:8-25:3).
The commandments end with a commandment that addresses heart issues alone. He prohibits covetousness of any kind whatever, and He requires us to be content with what He gives (Dt. 25:4-26:19).
After this is all made perfectly clear, the covenant is implemented. Once the terms are established and made clear, the covenant is made (Dt. 27:1-30:20).
Once this is done, we find succession established. God provides for the perpetuation of the covenant (Dt. 31-34).
We must return to an understanding of the glory of obedience. As we study this wonderful book, we must remember the nature and effect of obedience to the terms of the covenant. There is such a thing as covenantal “cause and effect.” The effect of right and faithful obedience is blessing from the hand of God. This blessing occurs in history. Only unbelief sees our lives as random. This remains true regardless of what dispensation we live in, whether old covenant or new covenant. It remains true that God is not mocked, and that a man still reaps what he sows.
This means we have to recover a covenantal worldview: the nature of our obedience is to be comprehensive. God is the Lord of the covenant, and this means that when we are in covenant with Him, we discover that His authority extends over all of life. God’s ten words in this book cover all of human activity, from undertaking war to the discovery of a bird’s nest. He is the Lord of all that we might find ourselves doing.