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Summary of Deuteronomy


Deuteronomy is couched in the form of a farewell discourse delivered by Moses on the plains of Moab (1:1-5). It opens with a review of how God had brought the people to the verge of the Jordan (1:1-4:43). In a second discourse, Moses explains the significance of the covenant (chapters 5-11) and introduces the Deuteronomic Law Code (chapters 12-26), the heart of the book. This is followed by instructions for the renewal of the covenant (chapter 27), a list of blessings and curses (chapter 28), and a final exhortation to observe the covenant (chapters 29-30). The Song of Moses (chapters 31-32), his final blessing of Israel (chapter 33), and the account of his death on Mt. Nebo (chapter 34) bring the book to a close.


Deuteronomy, more than any other book, has set the tone for subsequent interpretation of the Pentateuch (Genesis-Deuteronomy), including its title in Judaism, “Torah.” In addition, Deuteronomy became the theological basis for and introduction to the next major section of the Bible: the Former Prophets in Judaism and the Historical Books in Christianity (Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings), as well as the Book of Jeremiah. It is among the most commonly quoted books in the New Testament, with Jesus quoting from Deuteronomy more often than any other book.


In English Bibles, Deuteronomy is the fifth book in the Old Testament (and the final book of the Pentateuch). It follows Numbers and comes before Joshua.


Ancient tradition identifies Moses as the author of Deuteronomy. Today, many scholars believe that Deuteronomy is the initial part of the Deuteronomistic History (Joshua-Kings) and that various older traditions have been gathered together and edited by a nameless exilic editor or editors.


There is some agreement that the central core of Deuteronomy (chapters 12-26) was the basis for the extensive reforms of Josiah (2 Kings 22-23) in 622/621 B.C.E. Deuteronomy as we know it is the final result of a long process of growth, probably culminating during the Babylonian exile in the sixth century B.C.E.


Deuteronomy is cast in the form of a series of three sermons delivered by Moses on the plain of Moab just prior to the Israelites’ entrance into the land of Canaan (1:6-4:43; 4:44-28:68; 29:1-30:20). Much of the second sermon consists of a long body of legislation (chapters 12-26). Wedged between the second and third sermons are a covenant renewal at Shechem (chapter 27) and a list of blessings and curses (chapter 28). Deuteronomy concludes with the Song of Moses (chapters 31-32); Moses’ blessing of the tribes (chapter 33); and the death of Moses on Mt. Nebo (chapter 34).


While Deuteronomy is presented as three sermons delivered by Moses, a careful reading of the book reveals that this is not the case. The concern for worship only at the central sanctuary (chapter 12) and the various legal traditions reflect the social, political, and economic situation of an established community. As the product of a long process of the application of Israel’s historic traditions, Deuteronomy seeks to apply those traditions to the contemporary Israelite community whether that community is the audience addressed by Moses, the reforming king Josiah in the seventh century B.C.E., or the exiles in Babylon.