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).
Outline of Deuteronomy:
I. Introduction: Moses will explain the law (1:1 – 5)
II. Moses’ First Sermon – a Recounting of the LORD’s Faithfulness (1:6 – 4:43)
III. Introduction to Second Sermon on expositing the Law (4:43 – 49)
IV. Moses’ Second Sermon – an Exposition of the Law Given at Mt. Sinai (5:1 – 26:19)
V. Script for Covenant Renewal Ceremony Once they enter the land (27:1 – 29:1)
VI. Moses’ Third Sermon – a Call to Obedience (29:2 – 30:20)
VII. The Last Acts of Moses (31:1 – 34:12)
Deuteronomy 28 continues the “script” for a ceremony that is to be conducted upon Mount Ebal and Mount Gerizim once Israel has crossed the Jordan River and taken the central portion of Canaan near Shechem, near these two mountains. In scripting this ceremony prior to even entering the land, Moses is making clear the certainty of their success if they will follow God’s directions.
Deuteronomy 28 contains two main parts of the “script.” The first part contains the blessings Israel will inherit for following faithfully the covenant with God they had just ratified (Deuteronomy 26:17). The second part of Chapter 28 contains cursings Israel will endure if they breach the covenant, and fail to follow the provisions they had agreed to keep (Deuteronomy 26:17).
The first part of Deuteronomy 28 describes the blessings which the Suzerain (Ruler) God will bring upon His vassals (Israel) if they obey His covenantal precepts (vv. 1-14). These blessings include abundant agricultural products, human and animal fertility, good physical and mental health, prosperity, and military victory.
The second part describes the curses the Suzerain God will bring upon the Israelites if they refuse to follow His divine commandments, and breach the covenant they agreed to (vv. 15-68). The curses include crop failure, natural diseases, poor health, military defeat, severe famines leading to cannibalism, and worldwide exile. Israel’s behavior in the land of Canaan will determine whether they will be blessed or cursed.
The actual ceremony was performed shortly after Israel entered the land, as described in Joshua 8:30-35. At the point of Deuteronomy 28, the people are still in Moab, listening to Moses, in preparation to enter Canaan.
Deuteronomy 28 can be outlined as follows: