The book of Deuteronomy is the fifth and last book of the Torah (“law”). It continues the story of the first 4 books and picks up exactly where the book of Numbers ends (with the people on the plain of Moab). Therefore, as we set the context for the book of Deuteronomy, it is important that we briefly summarize the theme of the previous books to see how the story of God unfolds.
Genesis describes God’s plan to bless the Israelites and the world through one man named Abraham (Gen. 12:1-3). Exodus focuses on God’s loving act by which He rescued the Israelites from Egypt in order to have a covenant relationship with them. Once the children of Israel are redeemed, Leviticus instructs them to live a holy life that reflects the life of their covenant redeemer (cf. Lev. 19). Since the first generation of the Israelites failed to obey God wholeheartedly, the book of Numbers displays a strong contrast between God’s faithfulness and the nation’s failure. That is why the book of Deuteronomy reiterates and expands on the covenant to a new generation of Israelites poised to enter and conquer the Promised Land. The message of the book is centered around two key terms: love and loyalty (Deut. 6:4-5).
Deuteronomy mainly consists of messages from Moses to the second generation of Israelites, in contemplation of their imminent entry into the Promised Land. God judged the first generation of Israelites who were delivered from Egypt for covenant violation by preventing them from entering the Promised Land. God led them to the edge of the Promised Land and told them to conquer it. The Israelites refused, saying God had led them there to die. God then judged that generation by decreeing that the Israelites fate would be as they had spoken: every numbered person twenty years and older will die in the wilderness.
Now all those decreed to die in the wilderness are dead. God prepares the second generation to enter the land by exhorting them. Deuteronomy is the record of that exhortation.
Deuteronomy begins with Moses reiterating God’s covenant, or agreement, with the people of Israel. Moses identifies each party in this covenant. He recounts the Israelites’ experiences in order to encourage them to press on to conquer the Promised Land. He reviews Israel’s history since the departure from Mount Horeb (also called Mt. Sinai), where they were given the Law, to Kadesh-barnea, at the border of the Promised Land. He reminds the Israelites of God’s command to leave Horeb.
Moses had appointed wise and respected men chosen by the people as leaders because the Israelites had become numerous. He called the judges to conduct their legal procedures with equity, knowing that every judgment belongs to the LORD. At Kadesh-barnea, he commanded the Israelites to go up and occupy the Promised Land. But due to lack of trust in the LORD, the Israelites rebelled against the command to conquer the land of Canaan.