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)
Having concluded all of his speeches to the Israelites (Deuteronomy 1:6 – 30:20), Moses now turned to the things he needed to accomplish before he died (which will occur soon, in Chapter 34) and before the Israelites entered the Promised Land. These tasks concentrate on ensuring that the covenant relationship between the LORD and Israel go on indefinitely into the future.
The record of the tasks that needed to be done is the focus of chapters 31 – 34. Some think that these final tasks of Moses before his departure from this world are presented as several appendices to the main part of the book of Deuteronomy.
Deuteronomy 31 contains the description of four of these tasks. First, Moses commissioned Joshua to be his successor (vv. 1–8). Second, Moses commands the priests and Levites to read the covenant document (the book of Deuteronomy) to the Israelites every seven years (vv. 9–13). Third, the LORD summons Moses and Joshua to present themselves at the tent of meeting to reveal to them (in the form of a song) what will happen in the future, after Moses’ death (vv. 14–22). After this, God commissioned Joshua (v. 23). Fourth, Moses commanded the Levites to place the book of the law beside the ark of the covenant (vv. 24–29).
Verse 30 serves as the introduction to the Song of Moses found in Chapter 32.
Deuteronomy 31 can be outlined as follows: