DEUTERONOMY, BOOK OF
The authenticity of Deuteronomy as a book of the Bible canon and the writership of Moses are well established by the fact that Deuteronomy has always been considered by the Jews as a part of the Law of Moses. The evidence for the authenticity of Deuteronomy is, in general, the same as that for the other four books of the Pentateuch (which see). Jesus is the foremost authority for the authenticity of Deuteronomy, quoting from it three times in turning away the temptations of Satan the Devil. (Matt. 4:1-11; Deut. 6:13, 16; 8:3) Also, Jesus answered the question as to what was the greatest and first commandment by quoting from Deuteronomy 6:5. (Mark 12:30) Paul quotes from Deuteronomy 30:12-14; 32:35, 36.—Rom. 10:6-8; Heb. 10:30.
The time covered by the book of Deuteronomy is somewhat over two months in the year 1473 B.C.E. It was written on the Plains of Moab and consists of four discourses and a song and a blessing by Moses as Israel camped on Canaan’s borders prior to entering the land.—Deut. 1:3; Josh. 1:11; 4:19.
Deuteronomy is not a second law nor a repetition of the entire Law, but an explanation, as Deuteronomy 1:5 says. It exhorts Israel to faithfulness to Jehovah, using the generation of the forty years’ wandering as an example to avoid. Moses explains and elaborates on some of the essential points of the Law and the principles therein, with a view to the altered circumstances of Israel when they would be settled permanently in the land. He adjusts some of the laws accordingly and gives further regulations concerning the administration of government in their settled condition in the Promised Land.
In exhorting them and calling on them to enter into this renewed covenant with Jehovah through Moses, the book of Deuteronomy places the emphasis strikingly on knowledge, teaching and instruction. The words “teach,” “teaching,” and “taught” occur much more often in Deuteronomy than in Exodus, Leviticus or Numbers. Moses explains that Jehovah was teaching Israel by feeding them with manna. (Deut. 8:3) He tells the Israelites to place Jehovah’s law as frontlets between their eyes and on the doorposts of their houses and on their gates. (6:8, 9) He commands them to inculcate his law in their sons. (6:6, 7) Instructions are given to read the Law every seventh year, during the time of the (annual) Festival of Booths. (31:10-13) Special instructions were given for the king that Israel might have in the future. He was to write a copy of the law for himself and must read in it every day. (17:18-20) Each time before Israel went out to battle the priests were to admonish the people to faith and courage and to assure them of victory, for Jehovah their God was marching with them. (20:1-4) When they should enter the Promised Land they were to divide the tribes into two groups, with one group on Mount Ebal and the other on Mount Gerizim, and then have God’s law read to them.—27:11-26; compare Joshua 8:33-35.
Love, kindness and consideration are also highlighted in Deuteronomy. The word “love” itself occurs twice as often in Deuteronomy as in Exodus, Leviticus and Numbers combined. Here we also have the greatest commandment, to which Jesus referred (Matt. 22:36, 37), uniquely stated: “You must love Jehovah your God with all your heart and all your soul and all your vital force” (Deut. 6:5; see also 10:12; 11:13.) Jehovah repeatedly expresses his love for Israel. (Deut. 7:7-9; 23:5; 33:3) The very tone of Deuteronomy highlights Jehovah’s love for his people. “If only they would develop this heart of theirs to fear me and to keep all my commandments always, in order that it might go well with them and their sons to time indefinite!” (5:29) In fact, we find such expressions as “that it may go well with you” and “that you may keep alive” time and again in Deuteronomy.—4:40; 5:16; 6:3; 22:7; 30:19, 20.
Even though warfare was ahead of Israel in taking the land, Jehovah did not overlook loving consideration. Victory was not so important or urgent that ruthless demands were to be made. An engaged man was exempt. (Deut. 20:7) Exemption was made for a newly married man, so that he could cherish his wife and she have her husband for at least a full year. (24:5) If a man planted a vineyard and had not eaten the fruit of it or built a house and not inaugurated it, he was excused from warfare so that he might enjoy the fruits of his labors.—20:5, 6.
Explicit details were given with respect to waging war and taking the land of Canaan. The fearful were to be sent home, lest they make the hearts of their brothers also weak. (Deut. 20:8) The cities of the specified nations of Canaan whose wickedness had come to the full were to be devoted to destruction without fail, but the cities not of these specified nations were to be given the alternative of surrender or destruction. If they surrendered, they were to be put to forced labor, but the Law required that even slaves be treated with kindness, and its commandments protected the women even in cities taken in war from being molested. Those who refused to surrender were to be put to death, only the little children, and women who had not had relations with men, being spared. (20:10-18; compare Numbers 31:17, 18.) In building siege works around a city, the Israelites were not permitted to cut down fruit trees.—Deut. 20:19, 20.
Animals were also given loving consideration in the book of Deuteronomy. The Israelites were prohibited from taking a bird sitting on a nest, for it was the protective instinct for her offspring that made her vulnerable. She was allowed to escape, but the young could be claimed by the Israelites for themselves. The mother was thus free to raise more young. (Deut. 22:6, 7) The farmer was not permitted to hitch an ass with a bull, to prevent hardship on the weaker animal. (22:10) The bull was not to be muzzled while threshing the grain so that he would not be tormented with hunger while grain was so close at hand and he was exerting his energy in work to thresh it.—25:4.
In family and social life consideration was shown. The firstborn son was to receive the double portion, regardless of whether he was the son of the favorite wife or not. (Deut. 21:15-17) Brother-in-law marriage was stated as a law for the first time and the penalties outlined so as to give it force. (25:5-10) Honest weights and measures were mandated. (25:13-16) The value of life was stressed by the command to build a parapet around the roof of a house. (22:8) Consideration even for the wrongdoer that was to be given strokes was indicated by the Law that limited the strokes to forty. (25:1-3) All these regulations gave more detail to the Law, while also showing great consideration. At the same time there was more strictness.
WARNINGS AND LAWS
Deuteronomy is filled with warnings against false worship and unfaithfulness and instructions on how to deal with it so that pure worship might be preserved. The exhortation to holiness was an outstanding thing in Deuteronomy. The Israelites were admonished not to intermarry with the nations round about, because this would present a threat to pure worship and loyalty to Jehovah. (Deut. 7:3, 4) They were warned against materialism and self-righteousness. (8:11-18; 9:4-6) Strong laws were made regarding apostasy. They were to watch themselves so that they would not turn to other gods. (11:16, 17) They were warned against false prophets. Instructions were given in two places as to how to identify a false prophet and how he should be dealt with. (13:1-5; 18:20-22) Even if a member of one’s own family should become apostate, the family was not to have pity but was to share in stoning such a one to death.—13:6-11.
Cities of Israel that turned apostate were to be devoted to destruction and nothing preserved for personal benefit by anyone. The city was never to be rebuilt. (Deut. 13:12-17) Delinquents uncontrollable by their parents were to be stoned to death.—21:18-21.
Holiness and freedom from bloodguilt were emphasized by the law concerning the way to handle an unsolved murder. (Deut. 21:1-9) Indicative of the zeal for pure worship, Deuteronomy contained regulations as to who could become a member of Jehovah’s congregation and when. No eunuch, no illegitimate son to the tenth generation, and no Moabite or Ammonite to time indefinite, could be admitted. However, Egyptians and Edomites of the third generation could become members of the congregation.—23:1-8.
Deuteronomy outlines the judicial arrangement for Israel when settled in the Promised Land. It sets forth the qualifications for judges and the arrangement of courts in the city gates, with the sanctuary as the supreme court of the land, whose judgments were to be followed by all Israel.—Deut. 16:18–17:13.
Deuteronomy emphasizes Jehovah as the unique God (Deut. 6:4), Israel as his unique people (Deut. 4:7, 8) and the establishment of one central place of worship. (12:4-7) It foretells the one who would be raised up as a prophet and leader like Moses and who would speak in Jehovah’s name and to whom all must be subject.—18:18, 19.
OUTLINE OF CONTENTS
I. Moses’ first discourse
A. Setting (1:1-5)
B. The history of the forty years’ wandering (1:6–3:29)
C. Exhortation to serve Jehovah alone by keeping the covenant (4:1-40)
D. Three cities of refuge set apart, E of the Jordan (4:41-49)
II. Moses’ second discourse
A. The Ten Commandments, together with a recounting of the giving of the Law at Mount Sinai (5:1-33)
1. Exposition of the first commandment, with exhortations to teach their sons (6:1-25)
B. Seven nations of the land of Canaan to be destroyed; no alliances of any nature to be made with them; their altars and idols to be destroyed (7:1-6)
C. Jehovah’s love and the requirement of love and faithfulness on Israel’s part for future success (7:7-26)
1. The need of being ever mindful of Jehovah’s dealings with them in the wilderness (8:1-20)
2. Jehovah’s faithfulness to covenant, not Israel’s righteousness, is reason for their possessing of land (9:1-6)
3. Golden calf and other instances of disobedience recalled; second set of tablets of law (9:7–10:11)
4. Love and fear of God from the heart essential for possession of land (10:12–11:12)
5. Blessings and cursings set before Israel (11:13-32)
D. Instructions applicable to Israel upon entry into the Promised Land
1. Regulations for eating meat and regarding blood (12:1-27)
2. Apostasy, false prophets and judgments of such (12:28–13:18)
3. Regulations concerning separateness, food, dead bodies and the tithe (14:1-29)
4. The year of release (15:1-15); voluntary, permanent slavery (15:16-18)
5. Presentation of firstborn animals (15:19-23)
6. The three yearly festivals (16:1-17)
7. Judicial system (16:18–17:13)
8. Regulations for kings (17:14-20)
9. Regulations for Levites (18:1-8)
10. Warnings against divination; prophet like Moses foretold; how a prophet of Jehovah can be identified (18:9-22)
11. Regulations for cities of refuge (19:1-13)
12. Boundary marks and rules of evidence (19:14-21)
13. Military laws (20:1-20)
14. Cleansing from bloodguilt for unsolved murder (21:1-9); marriage of captive women (21:10-14)
15. Right of firstborn; dealing with rebellious sons; hanging on a stake (21:15-23)
16. Regard for neighbor’s property; morality; kindness and consideration for life; purity (22:1-12)
17. Marriage relations (22:13-30)
18. Those ineligible for membership in the congregation (23:1-8)
19. Cleanness in army camp; laws regarding slaves, prostitutes, interest, vows and love for neighbor (23:9-25)
20. Divorce, loans, wages, kindness to fatherless and widows (24:1-22)
21. Administration of flogging; brother-in-law marriage; weights and measures; Amalek to be destroyed (25:1-19)
22. Firstfruits and tithing (26:1-19)
III. Moses’ third discourse
A. Law to be written on stones (27:1-10)
B. Blessings to be pronounced from Mount Gerizim and maledictions from Mount Ebal (27:11-26)
C. Prophecy of blessings for obeying God’s commandments and curses for disobedience (28:1-68)
IV. Moses’ fourth discourse; renewal of the covenant
A. Recounting of Jehovah’s care in the wilderness (29:1-9)
B. Warning against disobedience (29:10-29)
C. Mercy of God for those repenting (30:1-10)
D. Choice of life or death set before Israel (30:11-20)
V. Jehovah’s final instructions to Moses
A. Joshua commissioned as leader; prophecy of Israel’s rebelliousness (31:1-30)
VI. Moses’ song (32:1-52)
VII. Moses’ final blessings (33:1-29)
VIII. Moses’ death and burial (34:1-12)