The Book of Deuteronomy

The New Unger’s Bible Dictionary introduces the book of Deuteronomy with: “The last book of the
Pentateuch, completing the five books of Moses. The Jews called it ‘five-fifths of the law.’ It follows logically after
Numbers; Numbers carries the history of the nation Israel to the events in the Plains of Moab to the East of Jericho,
and Deuteronomy winds up the Mosaic age with three discourses from Moses just before his death and the entrance
of the people into the land of Canaan.”
In its introduction to the book of Deuteronomy, The Pulpit Commentary says: “This book, which ranks as
the closing book of the Pentateuch, the Fifth of the Fifths of the Law…, as the Jews designate it, is in the Hebrew
canon named from its two initial words, ‘Elleh Had-debhârím, or simply Debhârím, according to an ancient usage
with the Jews.… The name Deuteronomy it received from the Greek translators, whom the Vulgate follows…
Probably this was the name in use among the Hellenistic Jews, for this may be regarded as a fair rendering of the
phrase, Mishneh Hat-torah, ‘Iteration of the Law,’ by which some of the rabbins designate this book – a phrase taken
from ch. xvi. 18, though there having a different sense… The name ‘Deuteronomy’ is thus somewhat misleading, as
it is apt to suggest that there is in this book either a second code of laws or a recapitulation of laws already delivered,
whereas it is rather a summary, in a hortatory manner, of what it most concerned the people to keep in mind, both of
the Lord’s doings on their behalf, and of what it was his will they should specially observe and do when settled in the
Promised Land.”
According to The International Standard Bible Encylopaedia, the Greek title is due to a mistranslation by
the Septuagint of the clause in rendered, ‘and he shall write for himself this repetition of the law.’ The
Hebrew really means ‘and he shall write out for himself a copy of this law.’ However, the error on which the English
title rests is not serious, as Deuteronomy is in a very true sense a repetition of the law.”
The same Encylopaedia gives us a profound introduction to the book by saying: “It possesses an
individuality and impressiveness of its own. In Exodus-- Numbers Yahweh is represented as speaking unto Moses,
whereas in Deuteronomy, Moses is represented as speaking at Yahweh’s command to Israel .
It is a hortatory recapitulation of various addresses delivered at various times and places in the desert wanderings-- a
sort of homily on the constitution, the essence or gist of Moses’ instructions to Israel during the forty years of their
desert experience. It is ‘a Book of Reviews’; a translation of Israel’s redemptive history into living principles1
; not
so much a history as a commentary. There is much of retrospect in it, but its main outlook is forward. The rabbins
speak of it as ‘the Book of Reproofs.’ It is the text of all prophecy; a manual of evangelical oratory; possessing ‘all
the warmth of a St. Bernard, the flaming zeal of a Savonarola, and the tender, gracious sympathy of a Francis of
Assisi.’ The author’s interest is entirely moral. His one supreme purpose is to arouse Israel’s loyalty to Yahweh and
to His revealed law. Taken as a whole the book is an exposition of the great commandment, ‘Thou shalt love
Yahweh thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might.’ It was from Deuteronomy that
Jesus summarized the whole of the Old Covenant in a single sentence (; compare ), and from
it He drew His weapons with which to vanquish the tempter (; compare ).”
Many of Jesus’ most famous quotations of the Old Testament are derived from Deuteronomy. Jesus
overcame the devil’s temptation in the wilderness with three quotes from this book.2
The International Standard Bible Encylopaedia further remarks: “The great central thought of Deuteronomy
is the unique relation which Yahweh as a unique God sustains to Israel as a unique people. ‘Hear O Israel; Yahweh
our God is one Yahweh.’ The monotheism of Deuteronomy is very explicit. Following from this, as a necessary
corollary almost, is the other great teaching of the book, the unity of the sanctuary. The motto of the book might be
said to be, ‘One God, one sanctuary.’ ”
We could caption the book of Deuteronomy with the title of one of Francis Schaeffer’s books: How Then
Shall We Live?

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