If you have been studying the Bible from Genesis (possibly skipping Leviticus and parts of Numbers), Deuteronomy provides a natural bridge – looking back over what you have read so far, but also preparing for Joshua and the books that follow.
It is very readable! (But here we will only be picking out a very few passages before we move into Joshua.)
Again there will be some narrative which we will read without much comment.
The book can be broken down into several sections
The first three chapters recount the history of the Jewish people from the time they made their abortive attempt to enter the Promised Land, up to the point where forty years later, they were again poised to attack.
Then there are many exhortations to holiness, and obedience to the laws of God – including the very well-known passage in chapter 6 verses 4-9:
‘4 Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one. 5 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. 6 These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. 7 Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. 8 Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. 9 Write them on the door-frames of your houses and on your gates.’
From that passage what were the two most important things for them (and us) to remember?
There is only one God.
They must love God absolutely.
What could they (and we) do to remember this?
(Make sure you also find some present day ways to remember!)
The section finishes with warnings: blessings for obedience and curses for disobedience (Chapters 27-28)
Then there is a section reinforcing the terms of the covenant between God and his chosen people Israel, with a further warning:
11 Now what I am commanding you today is not too difficult for you or beyond your reach. 12 It is not up in heaven, so that you have to ask, ‘Who will ascend into heaven to get it and proclaim it to us so that we may obey it?’ 13 Nor is it beyond the sea, so that you have to ask, ‘Who will cross the sea to get it and proclaim it to us so that we may obey it?’ 14 No, the word is very near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart so that you may obey it. 15 See, I set before you today life and prosperity, death and destruction. 16 For I command you today to love the Lord your God, to walk in obedience to him, and to keep his commands, decrees and laws; then you will live and increase, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land you are entering to possess. 17 But if your heart turns away and you are not obedient, and if you are drawn away to bow down to other gods and worship them, 18 I declare to you this day that you will certainly be destroyed. You will not live long in the land you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess. 19 This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live 20 and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him. For the Lord is your life, and he will give you many years in the land he swore to give to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
Today, how much of this passage is relevant to 21st century Christians?
(Especially verses 14, 15 and 17-18)
In what way might we be destroyed if we ‘bow down to other gods and worship them’ ?
Moses knew the people were now ready to cross the Jordan, and that meant he was about to die. The final chapters therefore contain his commission to Joshua, his blessing for the people and finally, his death.
Now into Chapter 31
1 Then Moses went out and spoke these words to all Israel: 2 ‘I am now a hundred and twenty years old and I am no longer able to lead you. The Lord has said to me, “You shall not cross the Jordan.” 3 The Lord your God himself will cross over ahead of you. He will destroy these nations before you, and you will take possession of their land. Joshua also will cross over ahead of you, as the Lord said. 4 And the Lord will do to them what he did to Sihon and Og, the kings of the Amorites, whom he destroyed along with their land. 5 The Lord will deliver them to you, and you must do to them all that I have commanded you. 6 Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.’
Attacking the Amorite kings had not been a random act of vengeance. It was deliberately used to demonstrate how God would go before them, and how he himself would deliver their enemies to them (v5). And then verse 6; an inspired verse that has encouraged so many thousands of Christians over the years:
'Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.’
7 Then Moses summoned Joshua and said to him in the presence of all Israel, ‘Be strong and courageous, for you must go with this people into the land that the Lord swore to their ancestors to give them, and you must divide it among them as their inheritance. 8 The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.’
What a wonderful commission, and who better to take over from Moses.
9 So Moses wrote down this law and gave it to the Levitical priests, who carried the ark of the covenant of the Lord, and to all the elders of Israel.
There must have been several copies, perhaps several ‘books’; there would have to have been copies for the priests and every Elder in order for them to be able to read it to all the people.
10 Then Moses commanded them: ‘At the end of every seven years, in the year for cancelling debts, during the Festival of Tabernacles, 11 when all Israel comes to appear before the Lord your God at the place he will choose, you shall read this law before them in their hearing. 12 Assemble the people – men, women and children, and the foreigners residing in your towns – so that they can listen and learn to fear the Lord your God and follow carefully all the words of this law. 13 Their children, who do not know this law, must hear it and learn to fear the Lord your God as long as you live in the land you are crossing the Jordan to possess.’
It was very important that everyone, including foreigners and children, had heard the law of God, and learnt to ‘fear’ him.
What does ‘fear him’ mean in this context?
14 The Lord said to Moses, ‘Now the day of your death is near. Call Joshua and present yourselves at the tent of meeting, where I will commission him.’ So Moses and Joshua came and presented themselves at the tent of meeting. 15 Then the Lord appeared at the tent in a pillar of cloud, and the cloud stood over the entrance to the tent.
Moses and Joshua were preparing for this to be a happy handover. But what God had to explain to Moses was very bleak and hardly encouraging for Joshua:
16 And the Lord said to Moses: ‘You are going to rest with your ancestors, and these people will soon prostitute themselves to the foreign gods of the land they are entering. They will forsake me and break the covenant I made with them. 17 And in that day I will become angry with them and forsake them; I will hide my face from them, and they will be destroyed. Many disasters and calamities will come on them, and in that day they will ask, “Have not these disasters come on us because our God is not with us?” 18 And I will certainly hide my face in that day because of all their wickedness in turning to other gods.
A highly accurate prophecy, but at least Joshua knew what he was facing.
19 ‘Now write down this song and teach it to the Israelites and make them sing it, so that it may be a witness for me against them.
We all remember the words of a song much better than a piece of prose. So God dictated the song in chapter 32. (To western ears, the song translated into modern English, is not catchy! But when it was dictated it would have been learnt quickly, and would soon have been included into their repertoire of songs. To some it would probably have been just the words of a song; to others it was deadly serious.)
20 When I have brought them into the land flowing with milk and honey, the land I promised on oath to their ancestors, and when they eat their fill and thrive, they will turn to other gods and worship them, rejecting me and breaking my covenant. 21 And when many disasters and calamities come on them, this song will testify against them, because it will not be forgotten by their descendants. I know what they are disposed to do, even before I bring them into the land I promised them on oath.’ 22 So Moses wrote down this song that day and taught it to the Israelites.
Working through these studies, verse by verse, it is easy to miss the big picture; so let’s stop for a moment and try to look at this situation from God’s viewpoint.
God had allowed Adam and Eve free will. Exercising their free will they chose not to obey God and as a result sin entered the world and they were banished from the Garden of Eden.
Man’s rebellion continued unabated until God destroyed mankind with the Flood, leaving only the family of righteous Noah.
God made a covenant with Noah – an unconditional promise that he would never again destroy all life on earth with a flood (Genesis 9:8-11).
Noah’s descendants began to populate the World, still showing little regard for God’s ways.
Eventually at Babel God confused their languages and scattered them.
God then called Abram (Abraham) and made an unconditional covenant with him that he would become a great nation, and that all peoples on earth would be blessed through him (Genesis 12:1-3).
Then God made an unconditional covenant with him that he would give him and his descendants all the land from the river of Egypt to the Euphrates (Genesis 15:18–21)
Then God made a third covenant with Abraham confirming the first two, but this time it was conditional – it was the covenant of circumcision so that ever male descendant would have a constant reminder that he was in a covenant relationship with his God (Genesis 17:9-14). It was also to be a sign that he had been ‘cut off’ from the world, and that he was now part of a holy people (Leviticus 11:44) motivated by love of God (Deuteronomy 6:5) and his neighbour (Leviticus 19:18).
Then God gave Moses the Ten Commandments and made a conditional covenant with him. In this covenant, God promised to make the Israelites his treasured possession among all people and "a kingdom of priests and a holy nation" (Exodus 19:5-6), if they follow his commandments.
Finally God made a covenant with Aaron that he and his descendants would be priests (Numbers 18:1-19) for ever.
As in the Garden of Eden, God had provided conditions under which his ‘Holy People’ could thrive: a land and a lifestyle. All they had to do was to play their part. Now, as the nation of Israel was poised to cross the Jordan and enter the Promised Land, would the people do as he had planned?
Look again at parts of verse 20 and 21: ‘they will turn to other gods and worship them, rejecting me and breaking my covenant. . . . I know what they are disposed to do, even before I bring them into the land I promised them on oath.’
Fortunately, even though he knew the eventual outcome, the Lord was not deterred from all the covenant promises he had made.
23 The Lord gave this command to Joshua son of Nun: ‘Be strong and courageous, for you will bring the Israelites into the land I promised them on oath, and I myself will be with you.’
For Joshua the commission was simple: ‘Be strong and courageous . . . and I myself will be with you ’.
24 After Moses finished writing in a book the words of this law from beginning to end, 25 he gave this command to the Levites who carried the ark of the covenant of the Lord: 26 ‘Take this Book of the Law and place it beside the ark of the covenant of the Lord your God. There it will remain as a witness against you. 27 For I know how rebellious and stiff-necked you are. If you have been rebellious against the Lord while I am still alive and with you, how much more will you rebel after I die! 28 Assemble before me all the elders of your tribes and all your officials, so that I can speak these words in their hearing and call the heavens and the earth to testify against them. 29 For I know that after my death you are sure to become utterly corrupt and to turn from the way I have commanded you. In days to come, disaster will fall on you because you will do evil in the sight of the Lord and arouse his anger by what your hands have made.’
30 And Moses recited the words of this song from beginning to end in the hearing of the whole assembly of Israel:
(You could now read Deuteronomy 32:1-43 but I will offer no comments on it.)
We now continue from Deuteronomy 32:44
44 Moses came with Joshua son of Nun and spoke all the words of this song in the hearing of the people. 45 When Moses had finished reciting all these words to all Israel, 46 he said to them, ‘Take to heart all the words I have solemnly declared to you this day, so that you may command your children to obey carefully all the words of this law. 47 They are not just idle words for you – they are your life. By them you will live long in the land you are crossing the Jordan to possess.’
A challenging speech, and I’m sure people honestly felt that they would obey. But sadly we are all fickle, and sinful. God understood then and he understands now. Sadly, God knew that only the death and resurrection of his son could ever truly lead to a holy nation:
1 Peter 2:9
‘But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.’
48 On that same day the Lord told Moses, 49 ‘Go up into the Abarim Range to Mount Nebo in Moab, opposite Jericho, and view Canaan, the land I am giving the Israelites as their own possession. 50 There on the mountain that you have climbed you will die and be gathered to your people, just as your brother Aaron died on Mount Hor and was gathered to his people. 51 This is because both of you broke faith with me in the presence of the Israelites at the waters of Meribah Kadesh in the Desert of Zin and because you did not uphold my holiness among the Israelites. 52 Therefore, you will see the land only from a distance; you will not enter the land I am giving to the people of Israel.’
God’s Holiness was paramount. Moses knew he had let God down and he accepted his punishment. But how gracious of God to allow Moses a view of the Promised Land (and actually save him the heartache of continuing to lead that disobedient people).
We will skip Deuteronomy 33 and move on into:
1 Then Moses climbed Mount Nebo from the plains of Moab to the top of Pisgah, opposite Jericho. There the Lord showed him the whole land – from Gilead to Dan, 2 all of Naphtali, the territory of Ephraim and Manasseh, all the land of Judah as far as the Mediterranean Sea, 3 the Negev and the whole region from the Valley of Jericho, the City of Palms, as far as Zoar. 4 Then the Lord said to him, ‘This is the land I promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob when I said, “I will give it to your descendants.” I have let you see it with your eyes, but you will not cross over into it.’ 5 And Moses the servant of the Lord died there in Moab, as the Lord had said. 6 He buried him in Moab, in the valley opposite Beth Peor, but to this day no one knows where his grave is.
Knowing the people, I’m sure that if his body had been available, it would have been carried around ceremonially wherever the people went, and ultimately regarded as some form of icon to be revered.
7 Moses was a hundred and twenty years old when he died, yet his eyes were not weak nor his strength gone. 8 The Israelites grieved for Moses in the plains of Moab thirty days, until the time of weeping and mourning was over.
What an amazing man of God! I’m sure the time of mourning was genuine.
What high spots of his life can we remember?
9 Now Joshua son of Nun was filled with the spirit of wisdom because Moses had laid his hands on him. So the Israelites listened to him and did what the Lord had commanded Moses.
10 Since then, no prophet has risen in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face, 11 who did all those signs and wonders the Lord sent him to do in Egypt – to Pharaoh and to all his officials and to his whole land. 12 For no one has ever shown the mighty power or performed the awesome deeds that Moses did in the sight of all Israel.